Clashes between backers of Libya’s rival governments killed at least 32 people, the health ministry said Sunday in a new toll, after a battle that sparked fears of major new conflict.
Armed groups had exchanged fire that damaged several hospitals and set buildings on fire starting Friday evening, the worst fighting in the Libyan capital since a landmark 2020 ceasefire.
The fighting came after months of mounting tensions between backers of Abdulhamid Dbeibah and Fathi Bashagha, whose rival administrations are vying for control of the North African country which has seen more than a decade of violence since a 2011 uprising.
Dbeibah’s administration, installed in the capital as part of a United Nations-led peace process after the end of the last major battle in 2020, has so far prevented Bashagha from taking office there, arguing that the next administration should be the product of elections.
Bashagha was appointed by Libya’s eastern-based parliament earlier this year and is backed by powerful eastern military chief Khalifa Haftar, whose 2019 attempt to seize the capital by force turned into a year-long civil war.
Bashagha, a former interior minister, had initially ruled out the use of violence to take power in Tripoli but had since hinted that he could resort to force.
Libya plunged into chaos following the 2011 overthrow and killing of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a Western-backed uprising, with myriad armed groups and foreign powers moving to fill the power vacuum.
Certain armed groups seen as neutral in the latest crisis had moved to back Dbeibah this weekend to push back Bashagha’s second attempt to enter the capital.
Both sides exchanged blame on Saturday while world powers appealed for calm.
The UN’s Libya mission called for “an immediate cessation of hostilities”, citing “ongoing armed clashes including indiscriminate medium and heavy shelling in civilian-populated neighbourhoods”.
On Saturday evening, Dbeibah posted a video of himself surrounded by bodyguards and greeting fighters supporting his administration.
Dbeibah’s Government of National Unity said fighting had broken out after negotiations to avoid bloodshed in the western city collapsed.
Bashagha denied such talks had taken place, and accused Dbeibah’s “illegitimate” administration of “clinging to power”.
Local media reported later Saturday that a group of pro-Bashagha militias that had been making their way to the capital from Misrata later turned back.
Analyst Wolfram Lacher wrote on Twitter that Libya’s shifting alliances were “a never-ending story”.
“The armed groups that found themselves on the same side in yesterday’s Tripoli fighting will tomorrow clash over turf, positions and budgets,” he wrote.
“The factions that were pro-Dbeibah yesterday will challenge him tomorrow.”