Clashes between rival Libyan militias for control of the capital Tripoli have displaced nearly 20,000 people and prompted the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to warn that she could investigate and possibly prosecute new offences.

The self-styled Libyan National Army (NLA), aligned with a rival government in the east, launched a major military offensive on April 5 to take Tripoli, igniting clashes with rival militias allied with the United Nations-supported Government.

There were reports yesterday of missile attacks on civilians in residential areas of Tripoli.

Reports on Twitter from people on the ground said several people have been killed and houses struck. More than 140 people are believed to have been killed in the fighting so far.

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ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who was already investigating crimes in Libya, said in yesterday that she is "deeply concerned" about the escalation of violence and called on military commanders to prevent war crimes.

She said she "will not hesitate to expand my investigations and potential prosecutions to cover any new instances of crimes falling within the Court's jurisdiction".

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York yesterday that the number of people displaced due to hostilities in the Tripoli area had increased to near 20,000, including more than 2500 in the previous 24 hours.

He said 50 civilian casualties were confirmed so far, including 14 deaths, but these individually verified cases must be considered "a minimum", Dujarric said.

Dujarric said heavy weapons and shelling had damaged houses, schools and civilian infrastructure.

Dujarric said that around 3000 migrants remain trapped in detention centres in, and close to, conflict areas. "In some cases guards have abandoned the detention centres, leaving detainees to their own devices without basic life-sustaining supplies such as food or water," he said.

On the ground yesterday, Hifter's media office said clashes had been ongoing for days in the town of Ain Zara about 15km east of Tripoli.

It said clashes were taking place on the road that links the city to the Tripoli international airport.

The LNA said earlier this month that it had captured the airport but rival militias said they reclaimed the facility.

The airport has not been functional since fighting in 2014 destroyed much of the facility.

The battle for Tripoli could ignite civil war on the scale of the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi. That conflict led to Bensouda's ongoing probe after the UN Security Council called for an investigation.

Since Gaddafi's ouster, Libya has been governed by rival authorities in the east and in Tripoli, in the west, each backed by various militias and armed groups fighting over resources and territory.