Tripoli, April 3: Fighting between Zuara forces and those from neighbouring Al-Jmail and Rigaldeen intensified on Tuesday and is reported to have claimed as many as 31 lives. Much of fighting is taking place in Rigdaleen.
An official from Rigdaleen, Rami Kaanan, was quoted saying that said 17 fighters and residents were killed. He said that this included two women and a baby. The latter was reported killed when a rocket fell on his home.
Zuara spokesman Ayour Ali told Libya Herald on Tuesday evening that 14 Zuarans had been killed and 62 wounded. Nine had been killed in the town and five in the fighting. Four of the latter, he claimed, had been killed when a missile hit their vehicle.
Ayoob Sufyan from the Zuara Media Centre said that Zuara was being bombarded by Al-Jmail forces. “Many houses have been destroyed and civilians wounded,” he claimed.
On Monday, Sufayan had said that Zuara would go on the offensive today if the government did not intervene and disarm Al-Jmail and Rigdaleen, which he said had been armed by Qaddafi last year. This appears to have happened.
A Ministry of the interior spokesman however, told Libya Herald on Tuesday that it was taking action.
“I can confirm that the National Army has been told to contain the situation as soon as possible. Some forces have already reached the area. A number of helicopters are in the skies above the three cities monitoring the situation.”
Interior Minister Fawzi Abdelal told reporters he was “asking the two sides to restrain themselves… because there will be no winners in this battle”.
Sufyan, who said that the town’s hospital was full, confirmed that forces had arrived but were not intervening. He accused the government and others of not helping. Sabratha, he said, had stopped sending weapons. “Everyone has abandoned us”.
Reports say that ambulances from Tripoli and Zawia have been sent to the area.
Ali said that a shipment of medical aid from Zuarans in the capital would be sent to Zuara by boat from Tripoli on Wednesday because it was not being allowed through at Sabratha.
Clashes started on Sunday after 25 Zuara militiamen were seized on Satruday night by Al-Jamail forces and then released on Sunday although Zuarans claim they were tortured.
The Zuarans have characterised the clashes as a continuation of last year’s revolution, with themselves as freedom fighters and Al-Jamil and Rigdaleen as supporters of the Qaddafi regime. They claim that when the 25 were seized their captors were waving green flags although this has been firmly denied by government officials.
The two sides were in opposite camps during last year’s revolution. Observers, however, point to much older animosities between them. They add that smuggling rivalries have exacerbated the animosity.
Meanwhile Abdul Rahman Swehli of the Union for the Homeland party has warned of the danger of Libya sliding into the political and security turmoil. He blamed remnants of the former regime which he said were trying to push the country into chaos.