Libya: Death toll from Tripoli clashes climbs

Rami Musa and Samy Magdy
Associated Press

Benghazi, Libya – The death toll from more than a week of fighting between armed groups in Tripoli has climbed to at least 50 people, including civilians, Libyan authorities said Tuesday, as the U.N. expressed alarm over the fate of detained migrants and Libyans already displaced by years of unrest.

Fighting erupted last week when the Seventh Brigade, militias which hail from Tarhouna, a town about 40 miles south of Tripoli, attacked southern neighborhoods of the capital. The Tripoli Revolutionaries’ Brigades and the Nawasi Brigade – militias which support the U.N.-backed government – have come to the city’s defense.

In addition to those killed, another 138 people, including civilians, have been wounded, the Health Ministry said.

Libya slid into chaos after the 2011 uprising that overthrew long-ruling dictator Moammar Gadhafi and led to his death. The country is currently governed by rival authorities in Tripoli and the country’s east, each of which are backed by an array of militias. Other armed groups have carved out fiefdoms across the country, with many profiting from smuggling and extortion.

On Tuesday, a shell landed inside a former U.S. Embassy compound in Tripoli, setting off a fire that ignited a fuel tank, an embassy official said. No one was wounded, and the fire did not reach the building itself, said the official, who was not authorized to brief media and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The embassy, which was relocated to Tunisia during heavy fighting in 2014, tweeted that the compound “was not impacted in today’s fuel tank fire, which occurred in the vicinity.”

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva has voiced concern about the impact of the fighting on migrants and internally displaced people. Spokeswoman Liz Throssell said Tuesday that some of the nearly 8,000 arbitrarily detained migrants are trapped in detention centers in areas where fighting has taken place, without access to food or medical treatment.

She said at least 21 civilians have been killed, including two women and two children, since Aug. 26.

The U.N. Refugee Agency called on all sides to “spare civilians and civilian infrastructure and allow safe passage for those seeking refuge in safer areas.”

The U.N.-backed government has declared a state of emergency in and around Tripoli, and the UN mission in Libya has called on “concerned parties” to meet Tuesday for an “urgent dialogue on the security situation” in Tripoli.

Issandr el-Amrani, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, said there is a risk of other militias entering the fighting, including powerful groups from the city of Misrata.

He said the fighting could also empower forced loyal to Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter, the leader of a powerful militia in the east that is allied with the government there. Hifter has long opposed the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli.

The Tripoli government “is losing ground and the little legitimacy it has,” el-Amrani said. “Escalation of fighting could mean that the government loses control the capital.”

Mohamed Buisier, an analyst and former political adviser to Hifter, said the fighting was expected as armed groups in Tripoli were getting “larger portions of financial incentives.”

“This is a normal thing after years of failure,” he said. “We are in a new phase where nobody can strip the militias from their arms. Libya needs an international peacekeeping force,” he said.