By Moutaz Ali.
Tripoli, 31 October 2016:
After four days of bitter fighting between rival forces in Zawia, a ceasefire was agreed today to come into effect this evening. Under it all weapons would be removed from the streets.
Mediated by elders from neighbouring towns including Hararat, Sorman and Zintan, there is scepticism, however, whether it will last. There was a ceasefire on Saturday but it never got off the ground.
The fighting is said to have resulted in several casualties but numbers have not been revealed although it is reported that three gunmen from the Ahneish clan were killed today.
At the heart of the conflict is the longstanding bitter feud between the Ahneish and the Khadrawi clans. This, however, has now drawn in their respective tribes, the Bu Hamira and the Awlad Saqr. The latter are larger and stronger and are said to have been gaining the upper hand in the couple of days, forcing the Bu Hamira to withdraw to Omar Muktar and Jamal Abdul Nasser Streets in the centre of the town.
Although the current fighting was initially reported to have been sparked by the murder of three members of the Awad Saqr, the real reason, according to locals (and the reason why they are sceptical about the latest ceasefire), is a struggle over who guards Zawia refinery. At present, it is guarded by the Ahneish but the Awad Saqr are said to want it.
There is, said to be a considerable amount of money to be made from guarding the refinery.
The fighting, though, has brought misery and terror to many ordinary residents in the town.
Zawia Red Crescent yesterday said that that it had managed to evacuate some 40 families from the conflict zone, advising relatives to contact it so that it could get to other families and help them to leave. Others remain trapped.
The Red Crescent has since reported that that some of its staff have themselves come under fire.
Sources in Zawia, though, denied reports that the oil refinery has been affected by the fighting. However, a local reporter told the Libya Herald that thieves were using the clashes to rob a number of shops. A health clinic and a printing house had also been seriously damaged as a result of the fighting, he said.
“A number of Bangladeshi workers have been seen stuck in the area of clashes and we have informed Zawia Red Crescent about them,” the reporter added.
Meanwhile, controversial grand mufti Sadik Al-Ghariani has warned that the chaos in Zawia could provide an opening for Khalifa Hafter to build up support in the town and take it over.
Speaking on his Tanasah TV satellite channel of what he said was the “Hafter project” in the west of Libya, he suggested that Hafter agents were at work in Zawia saying that there were those in the town who were sympathetic to him. If they succeeded in taking over the town, he suggested, Hafter would act without mercy and it would be destroyed like Benghazi.
Criminals, he continued, were already sowing disorder in what had been one of the main centres of the revolution in order to open the road to Tripoli.
Ghariani also used his critique of the situation in Zawia to lambast the Presidency Council (PC) comparing it and the situation in Libya to that to Iraq.
The PC, for its part, yesterday called for a halt to the fighting in Zawia and ordered the interior ministry to carry out an investigation into the causes of the clashes.
UN Special Envoy Maartin Kobler also called for an end to the clashes, saying that fighting in residential areas was particularly unacceptable.