TRIPOLI — At least 27 people have been killed and nearly 100 wounded in several days of fighting between rival militias near the Libyan capital, the health ministry said on Thursday.
The clashes broke out on Monday in suburbs south of Tripoli and continued into Wednesday evening after a truce collapsed, despite an appeal by the United Nations for calm.
The clashes came to an end on Thursday after a ceasefire agreement announced by officials from western areas, but it was unclear whether the two rival camps would continue to respect it.
The health ministry said at least 27 people were killed and 91 were wounded in the fighting, most of them civilians.
Fayez Al-Sarraj, the leader of the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), has tasked forces from western and central regions of Libya with ensuring the rivals adhere to the ceasefire.
These forces are meant to guarantee the withdrawal of the two rival camps from front lines and ensure normal life returns in the districts affected by the fighting.
The proposed pacifying forces consist mainly of powerful armed groups from the cities of Misrata and Zintan in the west, which are technically under the GNA’s defense ministry.
Under the orders of Sarraj, who heads the Libyan army, these military units will be allowed to operate in the capital and its environs only until Sept. 30, when they must leave.
The Misrata and Zintan militias controlled the Libyan capital from the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 until 2014, when a coalition of militias mainly from Misrata seized the city.
This week’s fighting has pitted Tripoli militias loyal to the GNA against the so-called 7th Brigade.
This unit is from the town of Tarhuna southeast of the capital and is supposed to operate under the GNA’s defense ministry.
In a televised speech, Sarraj said on Thursday that the 7th Brigade had been “dissolved” since April, before calling on the rival camps to respect the ceasefire.
In a joint statement, the embassies of Britain, France, Italy and the United States on Thursday said they were “deeply concerned about the recent clashes in and around Tripoli that are destabilizing the situation”.
“Pursuing political aims through violence will only further exacerbate the suffering of the population of Libya, and threaten broader stability”, the statement said.
“Those who undermine Libya’s peace, security and stability will be held accountable.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of migrants have been relocated from government-run detention centers in Libya after being trapped by clashes between rival groups, UN and aid sources said on Thursday.
The migrants were taken to a “safer place” from two centers run by the UN-backed government in the Ain Zara area in southeastern Tripoli, aid workers said.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR said in a statement it facilitated the transport “in coordination with other agencies and the Department for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM)”.
The migrants, mainly Eritreans, Ethiopians and Somalis, were taken to a separate detention center away from the fighting. A few were still waiting to evacuate from Ain Zara, an official at another international organization said.
Libya is the main departure point in North Africa for migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, mainly from other parts of Africa.
The number of crossings has fallen off sharply since Italy provided the coastguard with more boats and brokered deals with local groups in a smuggler hub last year.
The Libyan capital has been at the center of a battle for influence between armed groups since Gaddafi’s fall.
Successive transitional authorities, including the GNA, have been unable to form an functioning army or regular security forces and have been forced to rely on militias to keep the city safe.
In mid-2017, pro-GNA militias neutralized several rival groups in Tripoli. Since then, clashes have been rare.