Heavy clashes erupted between rival militias in the Libyan capital yesterday morning in the latest sign of the North African oil-producer's fragility despite efforts by Western and regional powers to bring stability.
Large explosions and intense gunfire, even artillery rounds, could be heard across the city, emanating from southeast Tripoli, apparently from the vicinity of the Rixos Hotel, a well-known landmark in the capital. Large plumes of black smoke billowed from the area, where clashes between militias have frequently occurred.
The violence, arriving before the start of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan this weekend, began around 8am, and was continuing through the morning.
It was unclear which forces were battling each other, but the tensions appeared to be between militias aligned with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and those belonging to its rival, the selfdeclared National Salvation government, according to security sources.
The Rixos Hotel and surrounding buildings have been used by officials and lawmakers aligned with the GNA. Last October, their new legislative body was ousted from the buildings. In December, the area was the scene of heavy fighting between rival armed factions over several days. Militias aligned with the GNA currently are in control of the complex and surrounding neighborhoods.
Instability and violence has plagued Libya since its 2011 revolution that led to the ousting and death of Libyan dictator, Moammar Gadhafi. Since then, competing militias have carved up the country into fiefdoms in a quest for power, authority and control over the nation's oil and other natural resources.
Three rival governments - the GNA, National Salvation, and a third one that controls the eastern part of the country - have been vying for power.
Last year, too, the capital was besieged by fighting during Ramadan. That time, the clashes involved different militias.
"This has become normal for us," said Shukri Salim, 27, a Libyan Airlines employee, who was having coffee with friends in a cafe and watching a televised soccer match.
"I knew it was Ramadan and the war is going to start," said his friend Ayoub Aldabaa, 27, an accountant who was also in the cafe. "We're so accustomed to this."