A day of militia fighting for control of the international airport in Libya’s capital Tripoli has killed 22 people, the interim government said Sunday.
It said “heavily armed groups” have shelled “civilian targets,” endangering thousands of citizens and displacing hundreds of families. The 22 people were killed on Saturday alone, the latest casualties in fighting that has claimed more than 200 lives in recent weeks.
The government statement said another 72 people were wounded in Saturday’s battles.
Libya is in the grip of its worst violence since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Islamist militias from the coastal city of Misrata have led the assault on the airport, seeking to seize it from militiamen from the mountain town of Zintan. The fighters on both sides are mainly drawn from the rebels who toppled and killed Gadhafi nearly three years ago with the help of a NATO air campaign against his forces.
The fighting on Saturday came as more than three-quarters of Libya’s newly elected parliament met for the first time in Tobrouk, a city near the Egyptian border chosen by a prominent anti-Islamist politician, signaling a swing against Islamist parties and extremist militias.
However, as the lawmakers met in Tobrouk, Islamist militias overran several army bases and took control of the eastern city of Benghazi, the cradle of the 2011 revolt.
Their advance in the country’s second city dealt a major blow to forces loyal to a renegade general who had vowed to drive extremist militias out following months of violence.
The meeting Saturday saw 152 lawmakers gather in Tobrouk, according to the official Facebook page of Libya’s House of Representatives. Abu Bakr Baiera, the anti-Islamist lawmaker who presided over Saturday’s session, decided to postpone the official opening until more lawmakers arrive.
The presence of that many members of parliament — all elected as independents — suggests most lawmakers are not affiliated to the Islamist factions that dominated Libya’s outgoing interim parliament. The last session suffered from political infighting, as well as violent attacks that saw lawmakers kidnapped and parliament itself besieged.
The violence across Libya has prompted the closure of several foreign missions and the withdrawal of diplomats. On Saturday a Greek naval frigate evacuated embassy staff and nearly 200 people from Greece, China and other countries.