Some of the fiercest clashes in two years in Libya’s capital between militias loyal to rival political leaders have left nearly three dozen people dead, as neighborhoods became battlefields and residents hunkered down in their homes, fearing a return to war in the country.
At least 32 people were killed in street-to-street fighting on Saturday, some of them civilians, and more than 150 others were wounded, according to the health ministry.
For years, Libya has been fractured between rival governments and prime ministers — and the militias they control. The internationally recognized Libyan government is led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeiba and based in the capital, Tripoli, in the country’s west.
Parliament, however, is based in Benghazi in the country’s east, which is controlled by the militia leader Khalifa Hifter and led politically by Fathi Bashagha.
On Sunday, a tense calm returned to the capital as the fighting subsided. Fighters loyal to Mr. Bashagha withdrew to the outskirts of Tripoli. Residents returned to their normal schedules, and shops reopened, but fears remained that the fighting could erupt again.
Before the clashes erupted, there had been rising tensions in Tripoli among the rival militias. Early on Saturday, an armed convoy belonging to a militia loyal to Mr. Bashagha was attacked as it drove through the capital, prompting the brief wave of violence.
In February, Libya’s Parliament declared that the Tripoli government’s authority, including that of Mr. Dbeiba, had expired after scuttled elections. Parliament voted to install an interim government and unanimously picked Mr. Bashagha as interim prime minister. But Mr. Dbeiba declared the vote illegitimate and vowed to hold onto power.
National elections were scheduled to be held last December in the oil-rich African nation amid a period of relative peace. There was hope that it would yield a unifying government that could shepherd the country out of more than a decade of chaos and instability since the Arab Spring revolt in 2011 overthrew the longtime dictator Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
But disagreements over the eligibility of the candidates have delayed the vote, with no new date set.
Disarming the country’s many militias and consolidating forces into a single national army is viewed as one of the major goals of a new government.
In the days leading up to Saturday’s clashes, the United Nations’ mission in Libya said it was concerned about a mobilization of fighters and threats of force to resolve competing claims of political legitimacy in the country, and it called for immediate de-escalation.
“The current political stalemate and all aspects of the crisis that afflict Libya cannot be resolved through armed confrontation,” the mission said in a statement. “These issues can only be resolved by the Libyan people exercising their right to choose their leaders.”
Mohammed Abdusamee contributed reporting.