CAIRO (AP) — Fighting between Islamist militias and rival groups in a western Libyan town has killed at least 23 people, a hospital official said Sunday.
Emad Khalifa Abdul-Salam of Gharyan hospital, southwest of the capital Tripoli, said the ongoing, intense battle in the nearby town of Kikla left another 43 people wounded, including 10 in critical condition, mainly from shrapnel wounds.
The fighting is part of a nationwide power struggle between Islamist-backed militias, which have seized control of most of Tripoli, including its international airport, and their opponents, which back an internationally-recognized government based in the country's far east.
The anti-Islamist Zintan militia, named for its hometown in the west, attacked Kikla— an Islamist stronghold— on Saturday.
A commander in the Islamist militias, known as the Dawn of Libya, said the Zintan militia, with the backing of local tribes, was able to seize parts of Kikla and briefly cut roads between Kikla and Gharyan, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of Tripoli.
But the Dawn of Libya fighters forced them to retreat, allowing traffic to resume, the commander said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Facebook pages affiliated with the Zintan militias showed pictures of Dawn of Libya vehicles they claimed to have seized in the fighting.
Libya descended into chaos following the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Violence and rivalry between political groups, backed by supportive militias, has deeply split the country, which currently has two rival governments and parliaments.
Fighting in the east has meanwhile intensified as troops loyal to Gen. Khalifa Hifter have battled more radical Islamic militias. The two sides are currently fighting over an eastern airport.
In a rare visit to Tripoli on Saturday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged all factions to stop the fighting and endorsed a reconciliation process that launched talks between rival parliamentarians. The U.N.-sponsored talks also aim to include armed groups.
The U.N. says hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced by the militia fighting, including 100,000 in just the last three weeks.