Militia clashes and tensions likely to continue in Tripoli
On 21 January, a ceasefire agreement was reached between the Tripoli Protection Force (TPR) and the 7th Brigade (aka Kani militia) from Tarhouna following a series of clashes in southern Tripoli that began on 16 January, leaving at least 13 people dead and over 52 injured. The exact cause of the clashes remains unclear. The 7th Bridge have claimed that the clashes began after the Government of National Accord’s (GNA) Interior Ministry (MoI), led by Fathi Bashaaga, handed over control of the defunct Tripoli International Airport (TIA) to them. In contrast, the Presidential Council’s Chairman of the Committee on Communication and Security Arrangements, Ramdan Zermuh, suggested the clashes were a result of the MoI handing over the TIA to the Department of Ports, with the 7th Brigade trying to take advantage of the handover to seize the airport. As for the TPF, they accuse Bashaaga of inciting tensions between Tripoli and Tarhouna in order to gain control over the TIA.
On 20 January, the GNA staged a visit to TIA in order to appease tensions and demonstrate the GNA’s control over the situation. Tensions over control over the TIA have been simmering between the Tripoli-based militias and Tarhouna-based forces since the groups brokered a ceasefire in September 2018. The Tarhouna-based forces maintain that the so-called “Tripoli cartel” militias, most of which have rebranded themselves as the Tripoli Protection Forces, retain leverage over state institutions for financial gain, despite efforts by the GNA’s MoI to reduce their influence in the city. Further clashes are likely. Indeed, while the 7th Brigade is unlikely to succeed in seizing territory in central Tripoli or driving out the Tripoli militias without significant external support, they could act as a catalyst for deeper divisions and conflict among Tripoli-based militias and political actors. Indeed, local sources say the situation remains extremely fragile and an outbreak of fresh conflict is to be expected. These developments are also complicating tensions within the GNA itself, accentuating the splits within the PC.