Libya declares state of emeregency as death toll reaches 39

Libya's United Nations-backed government has issued a state of emergency in the capital Tripoli as the death toll reaches 39 

Libya declares a state of emergency in Tripoli
Libya declares a state of emergency in Tripoli

Libya’s United Nations-backed government announced a state of emergency in the capital Tripoli on Sunday, as the death toll reached 39, including civilians caught in the crossfires.

The fighting erupted last week when armed groups from Tripoli and ones from a town to the south fought for power in Libya’s capital.

Street battles on Monday and Tuesday pitted the Seventh Brigade, or Kaniyat, from Tarhouna, a town 65km southeast of Tripoli, against the Tripoli Revolutionaries' Brigades and the Nawasi, two of the capital's largest factions.

The fighting reached the heart of Tripoli on Friday night with a rocket aimed at al-Wadan hotel damaged the Italian Embassy which is located in the vicinity. 

At least 39 people, including civilians, were killed in the violence, with Health authorities saying that around 100 others were wounded. Reporting from Tripoli, Al Jazeera's Mahmoud Abdelwahed said stray rockets were responsible for the death of several civilians.

"Since the beginning of the clashes that broke out a week ago, many civilians have been killed as a result of random rockets falling onto densely populated areas," he said.

The conflict also forced the closure of Mitiga airport after two rockets fell in the vicinity of the airport's control tower. The airport was evacuated and closed for 48 hours, pending further developments. Some flights have been temporarily transferred to Misrata airport. 

Around 400 prisoners also escaped from a facility near Tripoli amid the deadly violence between the militia groups.

"The detainees were able to force open the doors" in order to leave the Ain Zara prison, the local police said.

They added that guards, fearing for their lives, were unable to prevent the breakout following riots at the jail.

Sunday's statement by the government urged rival militias to stop the fighting and abide by a UN-brokered ceasefire.

"Due to the danger of the current situation and for the sake of the public interest, the presidential council declares a state of emergency ... to protect and secure civilians, public and private possessions and vital institutions," the Government of National Accord (GNA) said in a statement on Sunday.

Libya’s chaos started back in 2011 after the uprising that overthrew and killed longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

The country is currently governed by two rival authorities backed by an array of powerful armed groups: the Tripoli-based GNA, which is recognised by the UN as Libya's official government; and the Tobruk-based House of Representatives in the east of the country, which has the support of renegade General Khalifa Haftar.

A fragile truce reached in coordination with the UN mission in Libya took effect on Thursday, but was quickly breached.

"The Secretary-General condemns the continued escalation of violence in and around Libya's capital and, in particular, the use by armed groups of indiscriminate shelling leading to the death and injury of civilians, including children," a statement from Guterres' office said on Saturday.

On Saturday, Britain, France, Italy and the United States said in a joint statement that an escalation would hamper the political process in Libya and plans to hold nationwide elections by December.

The four countries said they "warn those who tamper with security in Tripoli or elsewhere in Libya that they will be held accountable for any such actions".

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