Clashes between militias backed by Libya’s rival governments have killed at least 32 people and injured 159, according to the health ministry.
Saturday’s fighting in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, was the worst in two years and has sparked fears the country could plunge back into full-scale war.
The health ministry said on Sunday that 32 people were killed in Saturday’s violence and 159 were injured, against an earlier estimate by a ministry source of 23 dead and 87 injured.
One of those killed was Mustafa Baraka, a comedian known for his social media videos mocking militias and corruption. Baraka died after being shot in the chest, said Malek Merset, a spokesman for the emergency services.
Merset said emergency services were still trying to evacuate injured and civilians trapped in the fighting, which broke out overnight and continued into Saturday night.
The health ministry said 140 people were injured while 64 families had to be evacuated from areas surrounding the fighting. It said hospitals and medical centers in the capital were shelled and ambulance teams were barred from evacuating civilians, in acts that “belong to war crimes”.
Malik Traina of Al Jazeera reported a cautious calm in Tripoli on Saturday night. “Since the fighting started, things have calmed down. But people here are still afraid that Libya is on the brink of a large-scale conflict,” he said from the Libyan capital.
The power struggle in Libya has led the Tripoli-based government of national unity (GNU) under Abdul Hamid Dbeibah to face a rival government under Fathi Bashagha backed by the eastern parliament.
Dbeibah’s GNU, installed as part of a United Nations-led peace process after an earlier round of violence, said the latest clashes in Tripoli were caused by fighters aligned with Bashagha firing at a convoy in the capital, while others were pro-Bashagha. units had gathered outside the city.
It accused Bashagha of withdrawing from talks to resolve the crisis.
Bashagha’s bid to take over in Tripoli on Saturday was his second attempt since May.
Bashagha, who is backed by the Libyan parliament and eastern-based military strongman Khalifa Haftar, says the GNU’s mandate has expired. But he has so far been unsuccessful in getting started in Tripoli, as Dbeibah has insisted on handing over power only to an elected government.
His government said in a statement that it had never turned down talks and that its own overtures had been rejected by Dbeibah.
It did not immediately respond to claims that it was linked to the clashes.
Witnesses told Reuters news agency that forces linked to Bashagha tried to take territory in Tripoli from various directions on Saturday, but his main military convoy returned to the coastal town of Misrata before reaching the capital.
Dbeibah later posted a video online of him visiting fighters in the city after the clashes ended.
Turkey, which has a military presence around Tripoli and helped troops in the city repel an easterly attack in 2020 with drone strikes, called for an immediate ceasefire, saying “we will continue to support our Libyan brothers” .
US Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland said in a statement that Washington “condemns” the wave of violence and is pushing for an “immediate ceasefire and UN-facilitated talks between the conflicting parties.”
Emadeddin Badi, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, warned the violence could escalate quickly.
“Urban warfare has its own logic, it is harmful to civilian infrastructure as well as to people, so even if it is not a long war, this conflict will be very destructive, as we have already seen,” he told AFP.
He added that the fighting could strengthen Haftar and his loved ones.
“They will benefit from the divisions in western Libya and have a better bargaining position once the dust settles.”
Tripoli’s city council blamed the ruling political class for the deteriorating situation in the capital and urged the international community to “protect civilians in Libya”.
“Civil society institutions in Tripoli strongly condemn the armed clashes in the city of Tripoli and hold the participating parties responsible for spilling civilian blood, intimidating security and destroying private and public property,” said Omar Weheba, a senior citizen. city official.
Libya has seen little peace since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi and split in 2014 between rival eastern and western factions, bringing in regional powers.