Worst Tripoli fighting in a year tests Libya ceasefire

Fighting between rival armed forces poses challenge to the unity government as it struggles to conduct national elections in December.

Conflict in Tripoli between the armed groups who vie to control both territory and state institutions would further undermine the prospect of December elections [File: Hazem Ahmed/Reuters]

Fighting broke out in Tripoli early on Friday between rival armed forces, witnesses said, the heaviest clashes in the Libyan capital since the conflict between eastern and western factions paused a year ago.

A resident of the Salah al-Din district in southern Tripoli said the shooting began at about 2:30am (00:30 GMT) and continued through the morning with medium and light weapons. There was no immediate report of casualties.

Conflict in Tripoli between the armed groups who vie to control both territory and state institutions would further undermine the prospect of December elections as part of a plan to end a decade of chaos, violence and division.

Despite a ceasefire and the progress earlier this year towards a political solution to Libya’s crisis, there has been no movement towards integrating its myriad armed groups into a unified national military.

Libya is a leading oil producer and though it has been able to maintain output over the past 10 years, disputes have sometimes shut down exports, including for months last year.

The new fighting pitted the 444 Brigade against the Stabilisation Support Force, two of the main forces in Tripoli, a witness said.

It follows major clashes last month in the city of Zawiya, west of Tripoli, and smaller incidents of friction or clashes inside the capital including a gunfight this week at a state institution.

In eastern Libya, controlled by renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), there have also been shootings and other incidents of violence in recent months.

‘Similar clashes’ elsewhere

Libya has had little peace since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that overthrew longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi, and in 2014 it divided between the warring eastern and western factions.

However, they agreed to a ceasefire last year and a new unity government that both sides backed was installed in March to prepare for national elections in December, moves seen as the best chance for peace in years.

The Tripoli-based unity government has, however, struggled to unify state institutions or prepare for elections, with the eastern-based parliament rejecting its budget and failing to agree on a constitutional basis for a vote.

Wolfram Lacher, of the German think-tank SWP, said although there was the possibility of further escalation, a mediated solution was likely to resolve the fighting in the short term.

However, “similar clashes are bound to recur in Tripoli and elsewhere”, he added.

Meanwhile, Morocco’s foreign minister has called on the Libyan parties to arrange for presidential and legislative elections in a timely manner, adding that the country’s stability depends on it.

Nasser Bourita’s remarks came during a joint news conference with Libya’s Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh on Thursday, following a meeting in the Moroccan capital, Rabat.

For his part, Saleh called on neighbouring countries and the international community to support Libya with holding elections on time, and said the situation in Libya would be worse if elections were to be postponed.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies