Tripoli in turmoil: Rival forces collide in capital showdown

Tripoli (Caasimada Online) – Gun battles in the Libyan capital between two prominent armed groups have left 27 people dead and wounded 106, according to a recent update from the Emergency Medicine Centre on Wednesday.

The clashes, which started Monday night and extended into Tuesday, were ignited following the detention of Colonel Mahmud Hamza, head of the influential 444 Brigade, by the rival Al-Radaa, or Special Deterrence Force, an interior ministry official revealed.

A total of 234 families were evacuated from frontline areas in Tripoli’s southern suburbs. After becoming trapped amidst the violence while tending to the wounded, dozens of doctors and paramedics were also extracted.

Three field hospitals were established in response to the escalating conflict, and approximately 60 ambulances were deployed to the area.

The warring factions

The 444 Brigade, affiliated with Libya’s defense ministry and reputed as the country’s most disciplined force, controls Tripoli’s southern suburbs, among other areas.

In contrast, the Al-Radaa Force, under the command of Abdel Rauf Karah, is a powerful, ultra-conservative militia that effectively acts as Tripoli’s police force.

They sway over central and eastern Tripoli, Mitiga air base, the civilian airport, and a prison.

Although ostensibly aligned with Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah’s UN-recognized government, these two armed groups are part of a broader pattern of infighting that has plagued Libya since the fall of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

Libya remains divided between Dbeibah’s Western government and an Eastern administration backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar.

Government response and ceasefire

On Tuesday, a social council in the southeastern suburb of Soug el-Joumaa announced an agreement with Prime Minister Dbeibah for Hamza to be handed over to a “neutral party.” Following this, a ceasefire is expected, and fighting waned late Tuesday.

Prime Minister Dbeibah and Interior Minister Imed Trabelsi personally visited the hard-hit southeastern suburb of Ain Zara on Tuesday night.

The government’s press office reported that Dbeibah “saw for himself the severity of the damage” as he walked through the densely populated and now darkened streets.

He has ordered a comprehensive survey of the damage, aiming to compensate the residents accordingly.

In an effort to stabilize the situation, the interior ministry has initiated a security plan, deploying officers to battleground districts to oversee the fragile truce.

Airport shutdown

Compounding the chaos, Tripoli’s only civilian airport, Mitiga—within Al-Radaa’s sphere of control—remained shut down on Wednesday, officials noted, diverting flights to Misrata, 180 kilometers (110 miles) to the east.

The latest surge in violence amidst a period of relative stability that had sparked UN hopes for elections drew immediate international attention.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) expressed deep concern over the deteriorating security situation and its toll on civilians.

“All parties must preserve the security gains achieved in recent years and address differences through dialogue,” UNSMIL urged.

The embassies of Britain, France, the European Union, and the United States have joined the UN in calling for de-escalation.

Elections in Libya were initially set for December 2021. However, due to disputes—including disagreements over candidates’ eligibility—they have been suspended indefinitely.

Nevertheless, the UN works tirelessly to overcome these sticking points, seeking a path toward national healing and democratic governance for a country that has suffered over a decade of intermittent conflict since the NATO-backed revolt that toppled Gaddafi.