Captured Libyan commander rejoins unit after clashes kill 55

TRIPOLI (Reuters) -A Libyan factional commander whose seizure triggered the worst fighting in Tripoli for years, with 55 killed and 146 wounded, was returned to his unit on Wednesday, officials in the commander’s organization said.

Mahmoud Hamza, head of the powerful 444 Brigade, was seized by the Special Deterrence Force on Monday as he tried to travel from Tripoli’s Mitiga airport, which the SDF controls.

Under a deal brokered by city elders, the SDF late on Tuesday handed Hamza over to a third faction, the Stabilisation Support Apparatus. That group released him to the 444 Brigade late on Wednesday, two officials with the brigade told Reuters.

Pictures sent by one of the 444 Brigade officials showed Hamza in his uniform hugging fellow fighters upon his return. Members of the force fired guns into the air on Wednesday evening as news of his expected release was reported.

Fighting broke out between the SDF and 444 Brigade across the capital late on Monday after Hamza’s capture.

The death toll from the fighting was announced on Wednesday by Tripoli health authorities, which also said 146 people had been injured.

Airlines that on Tuesday stopped using Mitiga airport, where some of the worst fighting took place, resumed flights on Wednesday, they said.

As part of the deal announced by the elders, police and other security forces that stayed neutral in the clashes moved into areas where the fighting took place.

Major warfare in Libya has been paused since a 2020 truce between the main eastern and western sides. But rival factions still hold most territory and a lasting solution to the conflict that has raged since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising looks distant.

(Reporting by Reuters Libya newsroom, writing by Angus McDowall, editing by Angus MacSwan and Cynthia Osterman)