New clashes in Tripoli

Kamel Abdallah , Tuesday 30 Aug 2022

Clashes broke out between forces loyal to Libyan National Unity Prime Minister Abdel-Hamid Dbeibah and prime minister designated by the Tobruk parliament Fathi Bashagha last weekend, reports Kamel Abdallah

New clashes in Tripoli
Damaged vehicles in Tripoli (photo: AFP)


All-day clashes in the Libyan capital Tripoli on Saturday enabled Prime Minister of the Libyan National Unity Government Abdel-Hamid Dbeibah to undermine the influence of rival Fathi Bashagha, the prime minister designated by the parliament in Tobruk, in the city.

Clashes reignited between armed groups loyal to each of the men in the city centre and the southern and western suburbs. At least 32 people were killed and 159 others were injured, according to the Libyan Ministry of Health on Sunday.

Fighting erupted late on Friday night between the two sides, as Bashagha pushed to enter the capital. Associates said his intention was to move to Tripoli and set up his government there, even though Dbeibah maintains a firm grip on the capital and is taking advantage of divisions between the parliament and the High State Council (HSC).

There is also hesitation and disagreements between the regional and international powers regarding the political arrangements in Libya.

The confrontations began two days after a letter by Bashagha to Dbeibah on 24 August demanding adherence to the principles of democracy and the peaceful transfer of power. Dbeibah responded by telling Bashagha to focus on the elections and abandon the “delusions of a coup,” according to a statement by Bashagha’s press office and a tweet by Dbeibah.

Libyan sources told Al-Ahram Weekly on Monday that both Dbeibah and Bashagha had briefed Western diplomatic missions about recent developments to their own advantage. Bashagha was planning disturbances in the capital to enable forces loyal to him to infiltrate Tripoli in order to shore up forces already there, they said.

Meanwhile, Dbeibah took advantage of the situation to undermine Bashagha’s grip and expel his allies from the capital.

The clashes began with skirmishes between groups affiliated with Bashagha and others loyal to Dbeibah. Other groups soon joined the fray, expanding the scope of the fighting from limited areas in the centre of Tripoli to its southern and western suburbs.

Other forces tried to advance from Misrata to Tripoli, but Dbeibah loyalists blocked their approach. The fighting ended with the removal of Bashagha associates from the centre of the capital and the tightening of the grip of Dbeibah loyalists on the city.

In the centre of Tripoli, fighting began in the early hours of Saturday with skirmishes between the 95th Battalion of the 777 Brigade, allied with Bashagha and created in 2021 by former commander of the Tripoli Revolutionaries Battalion Haitham Al-Tajouri, against a patrol of the General Security Apparatus led by Emad Trabelsi from Zintan, which is loyal to Dbeibah.

Shortly after the confrontations began in central Tripoli, the clashes spread to southern regions of the capital and the coastal highway in the west. Trabelsi’s forces were joined by the Stability Support Apparatus led by Abdel-Ghani Al-Kikli, stationed in Abu Salim which is the largest neighbourhood in Tripoli, the 301st Infantry Brigade, the Organised Crime and Counter-Terrorism Deterrence Agency, the Fursan Janzour Brigade, the Brigade 444 Combat, the West Coast Military Forces, the Gharyan Brigade, and the Joint Force.

Al-Tajouri’s fighters were backed up by commander of the Western Military Region Osama Al-Juwaili, commander of Brigade 217 for the Protection of Legitimacy Salem Joha from Misrata, Infantry Brigade 55 led by Muammar Al-Dawi from Warshfana, and forces from the region affiliated with MP Ali Bouzreiba, who is allied with Bashagha.

Dbeibah loyalists were in control of Tripoli by Saturday night and had restored calm. Dbeibah also gave orders to the security agencies to arrest anyone involved in the attack on Tripoli.

On Sunday, his military prosecutor-general issued arrest warrants for Bashagha, Mohamed Siwan, the chair of the Democratic Party, Othman Abdul-Jalil, a government spokesman and minister of health, as well as Juwaili.

The warrants made them subject to a travel ban and added their names to arrival and watch lists.

Dbeibah made an address to the Libyan people on Sunday evening in which he renewed his call to Parliamentary Speaker Aguila Saleh and HSC Chair Khaled Al-Mishri to agree to constitutional procedures and prepare new electoral laws.

“We are all the subject of the results of elections,” Dbeibah declared, accusing those who had attacked Tripoli of being “vessels for foreign agendas that don’t want stability for our country.”

He called for turning over a new leaf and closing ranks, forgetting the conflict in order to establish democracy in Libya. Dbeibah further warned of false solutions, stating that his government had taken measures to ensure that those involved in the attack, whether military or civilians, would not escape punishment.

In response, Bashagha issued a statement blaming the clashes in Tripoli on “outlaw criminal gangs taking orders from Dbeibah.” He said that the latter’s “term and legitimacy have expired according to the Geneva Agreement and parliamentary resolutions.”

Bashagha accused Dbeibah of misusing state resources and “forming and supporting armed groups designed to entrench his rule through force and a fait accompli.” Dbeibah was attempting to establish a “despotic dictatorship targeting anyone who opposes it with imprisonment or death.”

The ferocious clashes between Dbeibah and Bashagha loyalists were met with widespread international condemnation. The UN, US, Italy, Egypt, Turkey, the UAE, Qatar, Algeria, Tunisia, Iran and France all expressed serious concerns over the fighting and called for a ceasefire and a return to the negotiating table to resolve political differences.

Egypt called on all the parties and components of Libyan society to end the escalation and exercise restraint to end the bloodshed. It stressed the importance of protecting civilians and restoring calm to preserve the security, stability, and resources of the Libyan people and uphold the country’s interests.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman expressed Egypt’s desire to find a consensual solution to the situation in Libya that would meet the aspirations of all concerned and set out a vision to move towards the future and achieve stability.

Tarek Ahmed, UK minister for South Asia, North Africa, the UN and the Commonwealth, called on the Libyan parties to engage in a UN-sponsored dialogue “to agree on a path towards holding free, fair, and representative elections for all, with the support of all international actors.”

“The United Kingdom is willing to work with the Libyans, UN, and international partners to bring lasting peace and stability to Libya and achieve prosperity for its people,” he said.

US Special Envoy and Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland urged the Libyan parties to end the violence and hold talks facilitated by the UN. He called on international actors to use their influence to reach a ceasefire, stressing the need to bring the parliament and the HSC together on a constitutional basis for new elections at an early date.

France urged all Libyans to uphold the ceasefire agreement signed on 23 October 2020. In a statement issued by the French Embassy in Libya, it said that France remains “fully committed to promoting a viable political solution for the Libyan conflict, which requires holding transparent and credible presidential and parliamentary elections.”

Italy rejected all “unilateral actions, attacks on institutions, and attempts to impose solutions on the Libyan crisis through force [since] this will not lead to stability.”

It called for dialogue to end differences and parallel institutions, stressing that it would “remain responsive in support of UN mediation to facilitate the necessary and urgent Libyan-Libyan dialogue to overcome the current impasse.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.


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