A fuel depot on fire in Tripoli. Photo by @wheelertweets


Muammar Gaddafi promised chaos, and Libya seems headed straight in that direction. Three years after the fall of his regime, intense conflicts between rival militias are tearing the country apart and civilians are paying a heavy toll. In Benghazi and in Tripoli, our Observers are growing increasingly worried in the face of continued violence and chronic shortages of water, food and fuel.

The country has been chronically unstable since 2011, but this new flare-up of violence came after Islamist parties suffered heavy defeats in the June 25 legislative elections.

Militias from the western city of Zintan and Islamist militias from Misrata are locked in a fierce battle over Tripoli airport. The damage has been extensive and, on Sunday, a rocket hit a petrol depot containing 6 million litres of fuel at a complex near the airport. The ensuing fire was still burning out of control on Tuesday and a second tank had also caught fire.
The interim Libyan government said Monday that the fire had the potential to trigger "catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences” and asked for international help in fighting the blaze.

The clashes between the militia groups have also damaged strategic economic areas, compromising the distribution of water and food to the Libyan capital.

Screen grab from an amateur video showing firemen trying to put out the fire at the fuel depot on Sunday night.

"Imagine if the fuel depot explodes…"

Ahmed Am Fasatwi is an engineer who lives in Tripoli, close to the fuel depot.

I live 800 metres from the fuel depot that has been on fire since it was hit by a rocket. Faced with the severity of the fire, my family and I were evacuated with other residents of the area, which has seen some of the most intense clashes.
I don’t know who fired the rocket, but it appeared to have been fired from the east. The Islamist Misrata militias are mostly gathered to the east and its adversaries to the west, so I’m guessing that the Islamists are responsible for this fire. We’re extremely worried. Imagine if the petrol depot explodes...

That’s why my family and I have taken refuge at our friends’ house. We have what we need right now as far as food and water reserves go, but that’s not the case for everyone. One of Tripoli’s main water stations is located at Qasr bin Ghashir, close to the airport. It was damaged during the clashes and now many households that depended on it no longer have water.

Similarly, there is a street in the Al Kremiyya neighbourhood where many Tripoli food stores get their supplies in bulk. But most of the shops on this street have closed because of the nearby clashes. So food is becoming more and more difficult to access. We’re already seeing price inflation on several staple products.

Electricity has also become a real problem all over town. We now have only four to six hours of electricity a day – just two weeks ago, we had constant electricity. It’s also harder and harder to find petrol – it’s becoming rare to see cars on the streets.

It’s clearly the worst situation that the country has experienced since the fall of the Gaddafi regime. Considering the intensity of the clashes, I don’t see it improving better any time soon.

A thousand kilometres from Tripoli, Benghazi, the country’s second city, is also engulfed in violence. Since Saturday, the army has clashed with Islamist and jihadist militias.

"We don’t have the heart to celebrate Eid”

Mohamed (not his real name) was an activist in the uprising against Gaddafi. He now lives part-time in Benghazi and the rest of the time abroad. He is currently in Benghazi.

Clashes have been concentrated in the area around Benghazi’s commercial district, where I live. My apartment is next to the central police station, which has been targeted by Misrata’s Islamist militias. Rockets are constantly falling in the neighbourhood. The militiamen fire them blindly, so it’s extremely dangerous. Since they feel that everyone is against them, they just fire into the crowd, so to speak. That’s why I decided to move my family to our second apartment, which is in a calmer area by the seafront.

Benghazi residents are terrified that the Islamists will win the battle. The militiamen treat people in a frightening way: a few days ago, they shot two men accused of stealing a car in the middle of the street. The men had been sentenced in an expedited “trial” in front of a “court” that the militants had set up themselves [Editor’s Note: FRANCE 24 was not able to independently verify this information]. They have a skewed vision of justice. We are terrified that if they win the battle over Benghazi, we too could fall victim to these kinds of expedited procedures.
 
"I really regret having believed in this revolution"

I don’t understand why the West isn’t doing anything for us. They were so quick to help us get rid of Gaddafi, but after that, they left us on our own. No one helped us build a stable state or destroy the arms stockpiled by the regime, which are now in the hands of the militias. Today, we are seeing the result of all this: permanent clashes between the militias and the real risk that the Islamists will take power.

We didn’t have the heart to celebrate Eid [the holiday celebrating the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan]. We had a small gathering with my family but the mood was really sad. We can’t feel happy when there are funerals going on all over town. Even during the revolution, things weren’t this chaotic; the clashes only lasted a few days. This is worse than anything we’ve experienced so far.

I really regret having believed in this revolution and having participated in its launch. I feel guilty when I see all the blood that has been spilled. It’s not easy to live with that.

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Corentin Bainier (@cbainier).