Tripoli – Rival armed groups exchanged gunfire in the Libyan capital on Saturday, killing at least one person and raising fears of all-out conflict in a country embroiled in a grave political crisis.
The fighting follows months of rising tensions between two administrations vying for control of the North African country and its vast oil resources, the latest configuration in a complex and often violent power struggle since the 2011 overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Small arms fire and explosions rocked several districts of Tripoli overnight and into Saturday, when smoke could be seen rising from damaged buildings.
The two rival administrations exchanged blame as videos posted online showed burned-out cars and buildings ridden with bullet holes, as well as a mosque and a health clinic on fire.
The UN’s Libya mission called for “an immediate cessation of hostilities”, citing “ongoing armed clashes including indiscriminate medium and heavy shelling in civilian-populated neighbourhoods” that it said had damaged hospitals.
The US embassy in Libya said it was “very concerned” about the clashes.
Oussama Ali, a spokesman for Tripoli’s ambulance service, told Al-Ahrar television that an unknown number of civilians had been wounded but that his service was “having difficulties moving around”.
Local media reported fatalities but no official toll has been released.
News agency Lana said actor Mustafa Baraka had been killed in one of the neighbourhoods hit by fighting, sparking anger and mourning on social media.
The Government of National Unity (GNU) of Abdulhamid Dbeibah said fighting had broken out after negotiations to avoid bloodshed in the western city collapsed.
Dbeibah’s government, installed as part of a United Nations-led peace process following a previous round of violence, is challenged by a rival government led by former interior minister Fathi Bashagha.
Bashagha, who is backed by Libya’s parliament and eastern-based military strongman Khalifa Haftar, says the GNU’s mandate has expired.
But he has so far been unable to take office in Tripoli, as Dbeibah has insisted on only handing power to an elected government.
Dbeibah’s government accused Bashagha of “carrying out his threats” to take control of Tripoli.
Dbeibah’s GNU said negotiations had been underway to “hold elections at the end of the year to resolve the political crisis”, but that Bashagha had “walked out at the last moment”.
Emadeddin Badi, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said the statement would “ring hollow”.
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“It will be lost on no one that the GNU is more concerned with entrenching itself in Tripoli than with protecting any Tripolitan constituency,” he tweeted.
“The same is valid for the parallel government and its allies.”
Bashagha was appointed in February by the parliament, which was elected in 2014 and is based in the eastern city of Tobruk, but he has been unable to impose his authority in Tripoli.
Initially ruling out the use of violence, the former minister has since hinted that he could resort to force.
Last week, he called on “Libyan men of honour” to drop their support for Dbeibah’s “obsolete and illegitimate” administration.
Last month, clashes between rival groups in Tripoli left 16 people dead, including a child.
It was the deadliest violence to hit the Libyan capital since Haftar’s ill-fated attempt to seize it by force in 2019 and 2020.