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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Rival groups clash in suburbs of Libyan capital

Tanks and gunfire left residents cowering in Tripoli

Libya has been riven by unrest since the fall of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Reuters
Libya has been riven by unrest since the fall of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Reuters

Fierce clashes in Tripoli between rival groups linked to Libya's unity government have killed at least five people and wounded dozens, the health ministry said.

Explosions and gunfire echoed across suburbs of the capital as the two factions faced off with tanks and pickups mounted with machineguns, residents and security sources said.

The UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) condemned "outlawed groups" for Monday's violence "terrifying" residents.

Interior Minister Abdessalam Achour said the fighting pitted the so-called 7th Brigade – a militia from the town of Tarhuna southeast of Tripoli – against security forces.

The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) expressed "grave concern" and called on all parties "to immediately cease all military action".

A statement also warned that "the build-up of armed groups and hostile acts and rhetoric risk a wider military confrontation" in Libya.

The fighting broke out early in the day before easing off in the afternoon, although intermittent explosions were heard in the Ain Zara and Salaheddin neighbourhoods of southeast Tripoli.

"I'm still hearing very strong blasts that are rattling the windows of my home," a resident of Ain Zara told AFP by telephone, asking not to be named.

A resident of Salaheddin said tanks and several pickup trucks loaded with heavy machineguns were still deployed on the main roads of the suburb.

"I hear shooting. I can't leave the house," he said, adding that apartments had been hit by shelling.

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The GNA warned that "all those involved in this cowardly attack... are considered outlaws and will be pursued... without mercy".

The interior minister said a bid to mediate an end to the fighting was under way.

The 7th Brigade, which operates under the GNA's defence ministry, said it had repelled an attack on its positions in southeast Tripoli.

Meanwhile the national electricity company said its network had been hit and warned of a possible "total blackout" in the city, where power supplies are already rationed.

Since the 2011 NATO-backed ousting of dictator Muammer Qaddafi, Libya has been divided between the unity government in Tripoli and a rival administration in the east of the country.

A myriad of militias, jihadist groups and people traffickers have taken advantage of the chaos.

Transitional authorities, including the GNA, have tried but failed to integrate the armed forces into a regular army, relying on militias to ensure the capital's security.

In the summer of 2017, pro-GNA militias expelled several rival groups from the capital.

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