Clashes hit Libyan capital, residents say

TRIPOLI (Reuters) -Clashes broke out in the Libyan capital Tripoli late on Monday, residents said, and flights to the city’s main airport were suspended, after the reported seizure of a powerful armed faction commander by a rival force.

“We have heard gunfire for almost two hours now and we do not know what will happen. We fear for our safety,” said one of the residents in Furnaj district.

Mahmoud Hamza, head of the 444 brigade that controls much of Tripoli, was detained at Mitiga airport by the Special Deterrence Force, local media and a source in the 444 brigade said.

Sources at Mitiga said all flights to and from the airport were being rerouted to Misrata, 180km (110 miles) to the east.

Any sustained fighting between the two factions, the most powerful in the capital after a period of military consolidation, could pose significant risks.

Monday’s clashes are already the worst to hit Tripoli for months, though there has been sporadic violence between armed factions in some other parts of northwest Libya in recent weeks.

Libya has had little peace or security since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising and it split in 2014 between warring eastern and western factions. Major warfare has been paused since a 2020 ceasefire, but there is no sign of a lasting political solution.

A video shared online, that a witness to the clashes said was authentic, showed tracer fire streaming past an apartment building as the sound of gunshots rattled out.

A Reuters journalist in the Ain Zara district, near where the clashes were taking place, said armed men had closed a major road in the area.

(Reporting by Reuters Libya newsroom, writing by Angus McDowall, editing by Chris Reese and Sandra Maler)