Tripoli residents ‘pick up the pieces’ after deadly clashes

6. Libya Focus
People inspect the damage following clashes between backers of rival governments in Libya’s capital Tripoli, on August 28, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

TRIPOLI — Residents of Libya’s capital expressed shock and apprehension after weekend clashes between rival militias that left more than 30 people dead and reignited fears of a renewed conflict.اضافة اعلان

“It was a real war,” said local resident Manal, whose name has been changed for safety reasons.

“I was afraid for my family. ... My baby woke up many times because of the bombardments. I didn’t know when it would end,” said the woman in her 40s, adding that she feared fighting would resume.

Calm seemed to prevail over Tripoli for a second day Monday after the clashes — the worst violence in the capital since a landmark 2020 ceasefire.

The health ministry said 32 people were killed and 159 wounded, including an unspecified number of civilians, in the fighting that began overnight Friday and stretched into Saturday, while dozens of buildings were damaged.

Shops have now reopened, local authorities have started clearing the debris and technicians have mobilized to restore power in affected areas.

But as Libyans struggle with chronic instability and unending political crises, some residents expressed surprise at the intensity of the clashes in civilian areas.

‘Over’ for now

The fighting came after months of mounting tensions between backers of rival Libyan prime ministers Abdulhamid Dbeibah and Fathi Bashagha, whose administrations are vying for control of the oil-rich North African country.

“I closed the shutters, bolted the doors and spent the night in a windowless hall where we took shelter to protect ourselves from the impact of any explosions,” Manal said.

Dbeibah’s government was installed in Tripoli as part of a UN-led peace process last year, while Bashagha was appointed by Libya’s eastern-based parliament in February.

Local media and experts said Bashagha, a former interior minister who is backed by east-based military strongman Khalifa Haftar, had failed in what was his second attempt to dislodge his rival from the capital in three months.

Fatma Mahmoud, a 37-year-old pharmacist, said she was relieved to wake up Sunday morning to news that fighting had ended the night before.

“It’s over — until one of (the armed groups) decides to encroach on the other’s territory,” she said.

The rival executives traded blame for the fighting between their respective militias.

“The people need to feel safe and it’s up to the government to impose its authority on the militias,” said Mohammed Al-Nayli, a 33-year-old banker.

He said he wanted to see a “calm” Tripoli.

Situation ‘repeats itself’

Libya plunged into chaos following the 2011 overthrow and killing of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising, with myriad armed groups and foreign powers moving to fill the power vacuum.

But instead of a peaceful transition to democratic rule, the country has been mired in divisions between rival power bases in the country’s east and west, fueled by foreign influence.

In July, clashes between rival groups in Tripoli left 16 people dead.

Mahmoud, the pharmacist, deplored a situation that “tends to repeat itself” with increasing violence.

“Some lost loved ones, others are picking up the pieces of what was their house, not to mention the trauma — children curled up in basements waiting for it to end,” she added.

The scene of two panicked children fleeing a combat zone with their hands over their ears has prompted particular outcry.

“A 17-year-old child was killed and four children were injured — one was only five years old. These violations against children must stop,” UNICEF representative in Libya Michele Servadei said on Twitter.

The main mission of Dbeibah’s interim government was to organize presidential and parliamentary elections that were supposed to take place in December last year.

But the vote never took place due to the presence of contentious candidates and deep disagreements over the polls’ legal basis between rival power centers.

Bashagha says the mandate of Dbeibah’s Government of National Unity has expired, but Dbeibah has insisted on only handing power to an elected government.

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