The clashes broke out Friday in residential neighborhoods as forces aligned with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) fought to thwart a major offensive by rival militiamen.
There were reports of loud explosions and heavy artillery fire across the city throughout the day.
The GNA issued a statement and blamed the attack on Khalifa Ghwell, the head of a self-declared “national salvation government” that was set up in 2014, and Salah Badi, an allied militia leader. They are both leaders of the so-called Fajr Libya coalition of militias.
They “have exceeded all limits… Nothing stops them, not faith, not law, not custom and not morals,” said the statement. “This is their gift to the people for the month of Ramadan.”
Libya’s Health Ministry spokesman Anwar Frajallah announced the provisional casualty figures on Friday, but said he could not confirm whether they included any civilians.
A GNA security official identified as Hashem Bishr offered a separate count of casualties, saying 23 loyalist forces were killed and over 29 others injured in the fighting.
A police source said late Friday that the armed group loyal to the GNA seized the al-Hadhba prison holding senior officials of the country’s former dictator Moammar Kaddafi, who was toppled and then killed during an uprising in 2011.
In a joint statement released late Friday, GNA’s interior and justice ministries declared that all the prisoners had been handed over to them and were “in good health.”
More than 30 senior officials of the toppled regime were being held in the prison, including Kaddafi’s last Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmudi and his former intelligence chief, Abdullah Senussi. Both were sentenced to death in 2015.
The skirmishes centered around a complex of luxury villas that had served until March as the headquarters for militias loyal to Ghweil, a former prime minister who was ousted after GNA rose to power in March 2016. He has refused to recognize the new government.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Libya envoy Martin Kobler appealed for a halt to the fighting and said, “Voices of reason should prevail for the benefit of the country. Political aims must not be pursued through violence. Civilians must be protected.”
Libya has faced a power vacuum since a NATO military invasion following the 2011 uprising.
The country has been grappling with chaos and the emergence of numerous militant groups. The Daesh terror group has also taken advantage of the mayhem to gain a foothold in the country.
The country now has two governments — one based in Tripoli, where the GNA, led by Fayez al-Sarraj, is ruling, and the other centered in the eastern city of Tobruk, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s so-called Libyan National Army (LNA).
The UN supervised a series of negotiations in 2015 that led to the establishment of the GNA late that year. However, both Haftar and the allied eastern-based parliament have refused to recognize the UN-backed unity government.