Heavy clashes break out east of Libya's capital

Local authorities advising Tripoli residents to evacuate and stay away from the area

Members of Libyan National Army gather after the liberation of Islamist militants’ last stronghold in Benghazi, Libya, last week. Photograph: Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters

Members of Libyan National Army gather after the liberation of Islamist militants’ last stronghold in Benghazi, Libya, last week. Photograph: Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters

 

Heavy clashes erupted on Sunday between rival factions on the coastal road east of the Libyan capital Tripoli, according to a witness and local reports.

The clashes broke out when an armed group opposed to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli tried to approach the capital and was confronted by forces that have aligned themselves with the GNA, the witness said.

The fighting exposes the GNA’s vulnerability to militias that gained influence during and after Libya’s 2011 uprising.

The anti-GNA forces, which are aligned with a previous, self-declared government, were driven from Tripoli late in May and have been trying to regroup. The GNA recently issued a warning about a counterattack on the capital.

Since the GNA arrived in Tripoli last year it has co-opted some of the many armed groups that had a presence in the capital. But it has made little progress integrating them and the security situation has remained highly volatile.

Groups aligned with the self-declared national salvation government and largely drawing on support from the western city of Misrata have battled to hold their ground.

The two sides clashed on Sunday near the coastal town of Garabulli, about 50km (30 miles) east of Tripoli.

“The ground is shaking under my feet,” said a resident who asked not to be named. “The noise from the clashes is so loud that I think the groups fighting are using heavy artillery.”

Coastal road

GNA-aligned brigades closed the coastal road in Tajoura, an eastern suburb of Tripoli, and built sand barriers to try to block their rivals’ advance.

Local authorities were advising residents to evacuate and stay away from the area. The UN mission to Libya urged both sides to refrain from further escalation.

The clashes come just days after Libya’s eastern commander Khalifa Haftar said his forces had taken full control of Libya’s second city, Benghazi, from rival armed groups after a three-year campaign. The battle for Benghazi between Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army and an array of Islamist militants and other fighters has been part of a broader conflict since Libya slipped into turmoil following the 2011 fall of Muammar Gadafy.