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Hundreds escape in jailbreak near Libyan capital

Latest incident adds to fraught situation in Tripoli after a week of militia battles

Tripoli has been riven by violence for the last week which has claimed almost 40 lives. EPA/STR
Tripoli has been riven by violence for the last week which has claimed almost 40 lives. EPA/STR

A mass jailbreak by 400 prisoners in Tripoli has added to the chaos in the city from more than a week of deadly clashes between rival militias.

The prisoners forced their way past guards to escape from the jail in the central Ain Zara area on Sunday. Many of them were reported to be supporters of the late dictator Muammar Qaddafi who were convicted of killings during the 2011 uprising that ended his rule.

The fighting erupted on August 27 when militias based in city were attacked by the self-styled Seventh Brigade, a militia from the town of Tarhuna, 65 kilometres to the south. The clashes have left at least 49 dead and 129 wounded, according to the health ministry.

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemned “the use by armed groups of indiscriminate shelling leading to the death and injury of civilians, including children” and appealed for calm.

Many Tripoli residents were huddled in basements as rocket and tank fire echoed through the streets. The Seventh Brigade said it had launched its attack to “cleanse Tripoli of corrupt militias”, a reference to irregular forces who, in the absence of conventional police and army, control much of the city. Its units are battling city militias in several southern districts of Tripoli.

Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) declared a state of emergency on Sunday after unsuccessful attempts to broker a truce last week. The United Nations Support Mission to Libya hopes to convene talks between the militia chiefs on Tuesday.


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Meanwhile, the suffering of the city’s population continues, with residents reporting looting by militias, many shops closed, and power cuts.

Jalal Othman, founder of Libyan Institute for Investigative Journalism, tweeted: “About 30 per cent of residents in Ain Zara district are now in the areas of clashes and refuse to leave their homes for fear of theft and looting of their property. A large part of these families are in need of food and drinking water.”

The fighting puts a major question mark over plans to hold elections in December as agreed at talks in Paris in May between GNA Prime Minister Fayez Al Sarraj and Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, commander of the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA).

The LNA is controlled by a rival government to the GNA, the House of Representatives parliament based in the eastern town of Tobruk. It is not involved in the current fighting, but diplomats say the inability of the GNA, lacking its own security forces, to control the capital means voting may not be possible in December.

Updated: September 3, 2018 09:52 PM



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