TOBRUK, Libya (Reuters) – Libya’s newly elected House of Representatives held its first session yesterday, holed up in a heavily guarded provincial hotel as armed factions turned the two biggest cities, Tripoli and Benghazi, into battlefields.Western governments, which have mostly evacuated their diplomats after two weeks of fighting, hope the new parliament can create space for negotiations after the worst clashes since the 2011 war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi.
But there was no sign of a let-up in the capital, Tripoli, where a huge cloud of black smoke spread over the south of the city again yesterday after a fuel depot near the international airport was hit for the second time in a week as rival Zintan and Misrata brigades battled for control.
In southern Tripoli, at one of the front lines between warring factions, one block of partially built apartments was on fire after being hit. Nearby streets were littered with shell casings from machine-gun fire where Zintan fighters had defended their positions.
Fighting with rockets, anti-aircraft cannon and other heavy artillery in Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi has killed more than 200 people, and edged Libya closer to full-scale civil war just three years after the NATO-backed revolution. Britain became the latest Western government to announce it would close its embassy, fearing being caught in the crossfire.
Sky News reported yesterday that a Royal Navy vessel was moving into position off the coast of North Africa, preparing to evacuate British nationals from Libya. Britain’s Ministry of Defence said it did not give details of any assistance it was providing for operational reasons. With its national army still in formation, Libya has struggled to control heavily armed factions that have entrenched themselves as de facto power brokers in the messy transition since Gaddafi’s one-man rule.
Elected in June, lawmakers met yesterday for an emergency session in Tobruk, a coastal city east of Benghazi, where they are supposed to form a new government that many Libyans hope will be a step to ending the crisis.