x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

At least 13 killed in clashes near Tripoli

More than 100 hurt in worst battle since death of Qaddafi.

WARSHEFANA, LIBYA // Rival militia clashed for a fourth day on the outskirts of the Libyan capital in the deadliest and most sustained violence since the death of Muammar Qaddafi.

Fighters attacked each other late on Sunday with rockets, mortars and machine guns.

The fighting, in which at least 13 people were killed since late last week, raised concerns about the ability of Libya's transitional government to disarm thousands of gunmen and restore order after the eight-month civil war.

Libya's interim leader, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, said his National Transitional Council brought together elders from the feuding areas - the city of Zawiya and the nearby tribal lands of Warshefana - over the weekend and that the dispute had been resolved.

"I want to assure the Libyan people that everything is under control," he said.

But fighting continued as he spoke. Heavy gunfire and explosions from rocket-propelled grenades were heard for hours on Sunday in the area between the Warshefana lands, about 30 kilometres west of Tripoli, and in Zawiya, another 15km to the west.

At one stage the two sides were battling for control of a major military camp of the removed regime, said a fighter from Tripoli.

The camp, once a base of elite forces commanded by one of Qaddafi's sons, Khamis, is located on a motorway midway between Tripoli and Zawiya.

At least 13 people were killed in the fighting, including four from Zawiya and nine from Warshefana, according to gunmen and a hospital doctor in Warshefana.

More than 100 people from Warshefana had been injured since Saturday, said Dr Mohammed Sawan, who added that casualties stemmed from gunshots and shrapnel from rockets and mortar shells.

Late on Sunday, a Warshefana field commander, Ashraf Borwais, took a severely burnt fighter to hospital. He said the man was hurt when his vehicle was struck by artillery and exploded.

Mr Borwais added that fighting had stopped in the evening.

"The dogs have retreated," he said, referring to the Zawiya militiamen.

Meanwhile Zawiya fighters manned roadblocks on the outskirts of their city at intervals of about 200 metres.

Groups of armed men crowded around the checkpoints, while fighters searched cars and checked identification.

The reason for the initial clash remained unclear yesterday, although accusations include that some of the Warshefana had links to the Qaddafi regime.

At one point last week, fighters from Zawiya entered Warshefana and seized weapons. In retaliation, Warshefana fighters set up random checkpoints and fired at the main motorway.

Mr Abdul Jalil said the NTC had established a committee to address the grievances of both sides. He added that the fighting was sparked by young men behaving irresponsibly, but he did not elaborate.

Since the October 20 death of Qaddafi, there have been a number of violent clashes between fighters, including a deadly shoot-out at a Tripoli hospital.

Residents of the capital have become increasingly annoyed with fighters from other areas of Libya who have taken over prime locations in the city, including a gated seaside resort village.

Despite the growing tensions, Mr Abdul Jalil and other NTC leaders have said they could not disarm the fighters quickly.

Noting high unemployment among the armed men, Mr Abdul Jalil said the new government must offer alternatives first, including jobs, study and training.