At least 13 people have been killed in fighting between armed groups in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, a spokesman for the city’s emergency services said.
Fighters exchanged fire in a central district where several government and international agencies, along with diplomatic missions, are based, and clashes spread to the areas of Ain Zara and Asbaa on Friday.
It was the latest escalation to threaten the relative peace after nearly a decade of civil war in Libya, where two rival sets of authorities are locked in a political stalemate. The divisions have sparked several incidents of violence in Tripoli in recent months.
Tripoli Ambulance and Emergency Services spokesperson Osama Ali said at least 13 people were dead and 27 others were injured as a result of the clashes. A spokesperson for the interior ministry said three of the dead were civilians.
The main sides involved were both affiliated to the Presidency Council, a three-person body acting as transitional head of state. They included the RADA force, an interior ministry spokesperson said.
Fighters from RADA, one of the most powerful forces in Tripoli, were visible around most central areas on Friday morning, while the main Presidency Council building was empty.
Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, head of the Tripoli-based Government of National Unity, replaced the interior minister in response to the clashes, his office said.
The violence first broke out the previous night in the Ain Zara region between units of the Presidential Council’s security force and RADA.
By midday on Friday, the situation was mostly calm in central Tripoli, where some vehicles were burned out and others pocked with bullet holes.
A Presidential Council statement called on both sides to cease hostilities, adding that government and military prosecutors will conduct investigations.
Flights at Tripoli’s main Mitiga airport were stopped for hours, but the authorities there later said they were resuming.
The cause of the fighting was unclear. However, there were indications it was part of the ongoing power struggle between militias backing the country’s rival administrations.
Last month, clashes between two influential militias aligned with rival prime ministers vying for power rocked Tripoli, injuring several people in the process.
Oil-rich Libya has remained in turmoil since 2011 when longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown after four decades in power.
The situation has worsened since March when the eastern Tobruk-based House of Representatives appointed a new government led by former interior minister Fathi Bashagha.
Dbeibeh insists he will only cede authority to a government that comes through an “elected parliament,” raising fears that Libya could slip back into a civil war.
Both prime ministers have support from among the armed factions that control territory in the capital and other western Libyan cities.
During recent weeks, political shifts have pointed to a possible realignment among power brokers and armed factions that could prompt renewed fighting.