Fighting in western Libya town kills eight people

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Fighting in a Libyan hill town has killed eight people since Sunday, a member of the municipal council and another resident said, adding that forces aligned with the Tripoli government had re-established control there on Tuesday.

Clashes began in Gharyan, 90km (56 miles) south of Tripoli, during the weekend between a local commander who had previously allied with eastern forces in the civil war, and other fighters aligned with the government, residents said.

Muna al-Muqdam, the municipal council member, said two people were killed in the initial clashes but air strikes later targeted three positions in the town bringing the total death toll to eight.

Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, who heads the Government of National Unity in Tripoli, said on Monday he had formed an operations room to deter what he called “outlaw groups” around Gharyan.

Dbeibah, whose government is backed by Turkey, has previously used drones to target rival factions in fighting in western Libya.

Libya has had little peace since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted Muammar Gaddafi and it split in 2014 between rival eastern and western factions, dragging in regional powers.

Eastern factions demand Dbeibah steps aside before any move towards an election seen by the United Nations as the only solution to years of conflict. He has refused to step down until after an election.

Disputes over control of the government in Libya have led to repeated outbreaks of fighting since the start of 2022 but most major warfare has been on hold since a ceasefire in 2020.

Footage of Gharyan circulating online, which Reuters was not immediately able to verify, showed armed vehicles exchanging fire in the town centre with others burning by a roadside.

“The city is now controlled by forces of the Government of National Unity. The situation is under control,” council member Muqdam said.

Gharyan’s strategic significance has been clear for years after it was used by eastern commander Khalifa Haftar in 2019 to start an ultimately fruitless offensive northwards to try to capture Tripoli.

(Reporting by Reuters Libya newsroom; editing by Angus McDowall and Grant McCool)