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Civilians trapped home as militia clashes rock Libya's capital

Smoke billows amid clashes between armed groups affiliated with Libya's Tripoli-based Government of National Unity (GNU) in the Libyan capital on August 15, 2023.   -  
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Clashes between rival militias in the Libyan capital have left residents trapped in their homes unable to escape the violence, the country's health ministry said Tuesday (Aug. 15), in what appears to be the most intense fighting to rock Tripoli this year.

Fighting broke out between the 444 brigade and the Special Deterrence Force late Monday evening, according to local media. Tensions flared after the head of the 444 brigade was allegedly detained by the other force at an airport in Tripoli earlier Monday, media reported.

The Health Ministry urged the warring sides to allow ambulance and emergency teams to enter the affected areas, primarily in the south of the city, and for blood to be sent to nearby hospitals.

Libya’s Red Crescent did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A hospital source, speaking to the AFP said 2 people had been killed and over 30 injured.

OPSGroup, an organization for the aviation industry, said late Monday (Aug. 14) that a large number of aircraft departed the capital due to the clashes. Inbound flights were diverting to the nearby city of Misrata, it said.

The 444 Brigrade depends on the ministry of Defense. The group controls Tripoli's southern suburs and cities such as Tarhouna and Bani Walid located east of Tripoli. The fighters secure the roads linking the capital to the south of the country.

The Al-Radaa Force, or Special Deterrence Force, is a powerful militia that has assumed the prerogatives of the police in Tripoli. The group presents itself as a security division independent from the ministries of Interior and Defense. It controls Tripoli's east as well as the air base of Mitiga, the civilian airport and a prison.

Months of relative calm

The escalation follows months of relative peace after nearly a decade of civil war in Libya, where two rival sets of authorities are locked in a political stalemate.

Longstanding divisions have sparked several incidents of violence in Tripoli in recent years, although most have been over in a matter of hours.

In a statement Tuesday, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya said it was following with concern "the security incidents and developments" that began Monday. It called for an immediate end to the ongoing armed clashes.

Both of Libya’s rival chambers also condemned the fighting in separate statements Tuesday. The House of Representatives, which is situated in the eastern city of Benghazi, said its rival Tripoli-based government was accountable for the violence.

The U.S. and British embassies in Libya both issued online statements expressing their concerns about the escalating violence around Tripoli. The U.S. urges "immediate de-escalation in order to sustain recent Libyan gains toward stability and elections," the American Embassy said.

The oil-rich country has been divided since 2014 between rival administrations in the east and the west, each supported by various well-armed militias and foreign governments. It has been in a state of upheaval since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising toppled and later killed longtime  head of state Moammar Gadhafi.

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