26 dead in two weeks of clashes in Libya migrant hub
TRIPOLI - Two weeks of clashes between rival armed groups in the city of Sabratha sparked by a lethal shooting at a checkpoint have left 26 dead and 170 wounded, the health ministry said Friday.
The ministry said on its Facebook page that the toll, the first official casualty count for the fighting, was compiled by a follow-up commission on the violence in Sabratha, a hub for illegal migration on Libya's Mediterranean coast.
The clashes since September 17 have pitted a security force loyal to Libya's UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) against the militia of the head of a former people smuggling network, Ahmad Dabbashi.
They started with an exchange of gunfire at a checkpoint manned by the security force in which a militiaman was killed.
Libya has plunged into insecurity and political chaos since the ouster and killing of its long-time leader Moamer Kadhafi in a NATO-backed 2011 revolution.
People smugglers have fed on the turmoil, turning violence-wracked Libya into a key gateway for illegal migration to Europe.
Sabratha, 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of Tripoli where the GNA is based, is Libya's main departure point for migrants trying to reach Europe. Islamic State group jihadists briefly occupied the centre of the city in February 2016.
Dabbashi is reportedly among several people smugglers who have decided to halt their lucrative business and cooperate with authorities.