Heavy fighting broke out in Libya’s capital city of Tripoli on Saturday, killing at least 32 people and raising concerns of a return to all-out war.
Civilians were reportedly among those killed and injured in the clashes between forces loyal to Libya’s two rival governments: a Tripoli-based Government of National Unity headed by Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, and a House of Representatives based in the eastern city of Tobruk that chose its own prime minister for the country, Fathi Bashagha, in February.
Fighting appeared to have calmed by Sunday, but it was not clear for how long. Edmore Tondhlana, officer in charge at OCHA, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body in Libya, told The New Humanitarian that children were among the more than 150 people killed or injured, and four medical facilities and two ambulances were damaged in the fighting.
“It is unfortunate that the warring parties chose to exchange fire in populated civilian areas, trapping many and thus impacting their mental health,” he said, adding that various groups were now “assessing the impact and needs in order to provide an appropriate and coordinated [aid] response” after the fighting.
A government source, who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorised to speak to the media, said that refugees and migrants at two Tripoli detention centres were in the line of fire and suffering from acute shortages of food and water because aid groups had not been able to reach them as tensions built over the past few days.
The International Rescue Group said in a Sunday statement that “an unknown number of migrants and refugees have reportedly fled from a detention center located in the affected area. With nowhere safe to go many now find themselves on the streets and at heightened risk should fighting commence again.”
The UN estimates that there are around 650,000 migrants and refugees in Libya, thousands in the country’s notorious detention centres.
Al-Dbeibah — who was selected in an interim capacity to lead a UN-backed political transition — has refused to step down, saying he will only hand over power to an elected parliament. The Tobruk legislature was elected in 2014 in national polls that had extremely low turnout, and rivals have since questioned its validity.
National presidential and parliamentary elections were planned for last December but indefinitely postponed due to disagreements over election rules, including who was eligible to run.
The Tripoli fighting is the worst Libya has seen since an October 2020 ceasefire brought an end to more than a year and a half of fighting, mostly focused on the capital city, during which hundreds of thousands of civilians were forced to flee their homes. The country as a whole has seen little real peace since the 2011 ousting of dictator Muammar Gaddaffi.
For a look at Libya’s past wars, present tensions, and ongoing life for its civilians, here’s a selection of recent coverage:
Opinion: International engagement in Libya is worsening prospects for peace
More than eleven years after Libya’s revolution, the international community needs to own up to its role in the country’s chaos and back efforts for justice.
First Person: How migrants and asylum seekers in Libya lost faith in foreign aid
Deadly crackdowns by the authorities have left thousands camped outside a UN-run community centre, but it offers little protection or assistance.
Women rescued at sea reveal scale of alleged Libya abuses
Women and children face horrific violations in Libyan detention centres. Critics say EU policies are helping to perpetuate this cycle of abuse.
A Libyan town reckons with its past horrors and uncertain future
What can one town’s struggle for justice after years of killings and torture tell us about the potential for peace across the country?
Libya fails to stop migrant detention abuses, as EU-backed returns soar
Efforts to improve conditions for migrants have gone nowhere, causing a problem for the EU as it continues to support Mediterranean returns.
Libyan doctors battle on two dangerous fronts: COVID-19 and war
Guns, shelling, and armed men were already a major concern for Libya’s healthcare workers. Now they are trying to deal with COVID-19 too.
‘Save us from this area, from this war’: Refugees seek safety in Tripoli school
Tens of thousands have fled fighting in Libya’s capital. That includes vulnerable people who came to the country to escape conflict.
Tripoli chaos closes in on the city’s civilians
As international staff leave, some Libyans worry they will be abandoned.
The humanitarian fallout from Libya’s newest war
Medical supplies are running low while hundreds of migrants are trapped in detention centres and thousands of civilians have been displaced.
In Libya, a city once run by Islamic State struggles to start again
Thousands of Sirte residents are left with destroyed homes, landmines, and little help.
With reporting by Sara Creta.
Edited by Josephine Schmidt.