October 2, 2017 / 3:56 PM / 9 months ago

Civilians among dozens of casualties from clashes in Libyan smuggling hub

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - At least five civilians were killed and 12 others wounded among dozens of casualties comprised mostly of combatants in recent fighting in the west Libyan migrant smuggling hub of Sabratha, the United Nations said on Monday.

Sabratha’s university hospital has twice been hit by shelling, rendering the emergency and surgery units unusable, the U.N. Libya mission said in a statement.

The clashes have pitted the Anas al-Dabbashi brigade, an armed group previously known for migrant smuggling, against the Operations Room to combat the Islamic State, a group formed last year to oust jihadists from Sabratha.

The fighting broke out when a Dabbashi brigade member was shot dead at a checkpoint, but the brigade’s head has said the underlying cause was the group’s move to stop the departure of migrant boats to Italy following a deal with the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.

Both sides have links to the GNA, and both said on Monday they were complying with a ceasefire announced by the GNA’s chief of staff. The fighting had led to fears of a wider escalation, with the eastern-based Libyan National Army, a force loyal to powerful military commander Khalifa Haftar and opposed to the GNA, saying it backed the Operations Room.

Sabratha, about 70 km (44 miles) west of Tripoli, had been the most common departure point for migrants setting off towards Italy from Libya, until a sudden drop in crossings from July.

The health ministry in Tripoli said on Friday that, overall, at least 26 people including combatants had been killed and 170 wounded in nearly two weeks of fighting.

Reporting by Aidan Lewis and Ahmed Elumami; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Cynthia Osterman

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