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Clashes erupt between militias in Libya, leaving dozens dead

A fresh wave of violence engulfed the Libyan capital of Tripoli on Monday evening, leaving at least 55 people dead and 146 injured, the Reuters news agency reported, citing medical sources.

Fighting escalated on Monday within Tripoli between two prominent military forces — the Special Deterrence Force affiliated with the Presidential Council, and the 444th Brigade aligned with the National Unity Government. The militias are just two of many groups that have vied for power in Libya since the overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Smoke rising in Tripoli sky after overnight clashes
Dark smoke was seen hanging over parts of the Libyan capital on Tuesday, Aug. 15, and the sound of heavy weapons rattled through the streets, a Reuters journalist in Tripoli said, after overnight clashes. Reuters

Sparked by the arrest of Mahmoud Hamza — the commander of the 444th Brigade — at Mitiga International Airport in Tripoli, the impact of the fighting was quickly felt across the city, with shops and markets shuttered, government offices evacuated and civilian homes in multiple areas suffering damages.

Classes were suspended at Tripoli University, and air traffic at Mitiga Airport was halted. In a precautionary move, airlines redirected their flights to Misrata Airport.

Calm was gradually restored in the Libyan capital on Tuesday after an agreement was reached with Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah, head of the U.N.-recognized government based in the capital, for the detained Hamza to be handed over to a "neutral party."

Police units across the city liaised with the Emergency Medicine Center and relevant authorities to manage the crisis.

International stakeholders expressed their concerns as the clashes unfolded, with the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli releasing a statement urging "immediate de-escalation in order to sustain recent Libyan gains toward stability and elections."

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya echoed that sentiment, appealing to all involved factions to "de-escalate the violence and respect the demands of the Libyan people for peace & stability."

The latest episode of violence is not unfamiliar in Libya's tumultuous landscape. The nation's tribal dynamics, coupled with the lack of a unified governing authority and stable political structures, fuels rivalries for influence and power among competing factions.

In late May, Tripoli witnessed confrontations between the Radaa Service and the 444th Brigade following the detention of one of the brigade's former commanders.

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