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Dodging bullets on the frontline of Libya’s chaotic conflict

Fierce fighting has broken out in Libya’s capital as military groups try to defend the city against a warlord formerly allied to ex-dictator Colonel Gaddafi.

Here, Sky’s special correspondent Alex Crawford gives her first-hand account as she joined forces frantically trying to stop Khalifa Haftar and the Libyan National Army.

The frontlines in Tripoli are a chaotic mess.

A ragtag group of fighters allied to a range of different militias have banded together to defend the capital – and it’s a jumble of shooting, firing, running and attacking, only to be followed by frantic retreating.

Fierce fighting has broken out in Tripoli
Image: Fierce fighting has broken out in Tripoli

Fierce fighting has broken out in Tripoli
Image: A range of different militias have banded together to defend Tripoli

Banks of sand are pitched around the capital’s perimeter to stop the advancing fighters commanded by a man who was once a senior commander under the country’s former dictator Colonel Gaddafi.

But while this disparate group of fighters are battling on the edges of the city, just a few dozen kilometres away in the centre, life goes on more or less as normal.

Fierce fighting has broken out in Tripoli
Image: The fighters are trying to stop Khalifa Haftar and the Libyan National Army

Families go about their daily business; shops are open; restaurants and cafes are operating and businesses are functioning.

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But about 15 kilometres from Martyrs Square, two sets of Libyans have their guns and weapons trained on each other.

Fierce fighting has broken out in Tripoli
Image: Sky’s Alex Crawford was caught up in the fighting

Fierce fighting has broken out in Tripoli
Image: The fighting took place about 15 kilometres from Martyrs Square

The men fighting with Khalifa Haftar, a warlord who’s set up a rival administration in the east, are pounding about four different battlefronts.

His advance on the capital has done what dozens of diplomats and politicians have failed to do – force several of the multiple militia operating in Libya to form a loose alliance against him.

But the general has some powerful backers – and he returned to Libya on Sunday having secured the “unequivocal support” of the Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Fierce fighting has broken out in Tripoli
Image: Smoke could be seen in the distance during the fighting

Fierce fighting has broken out in Tripoli
Image: The men fighting General Haftar’s troops are on four different battlefronts

“The president affirmed Egypt’s support in efforts to fight terrorism and extremist militias to achieve security and stability for Libyan citizens throughout the country,” Mr el-Sisi’s office said.

General Haftar has positioned himself as the guardian of the capital, saying he’s moving his self-styled Libyan National Army fighters into the city to clear it out of what he describes as terrorists.

But the fighters ranged against Haftar’s men view it as a blatant attempt to militarily seize power.

Khalifa Haftar leads the Libyan National Army
Image: Khalifa Haftar leads the Libyan National Army

They’ve formed themselves into what they’re calling the Tripoli Defence Force.

“We do not want another dictator,” one said. “He is just another Gaddafi.”

There appears to be much concern amongst the civilians living inside the capital’s perimeter, under the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, led by Fayez al-Sarraj.

Most are not at all sure which way this conflict is going to go – or who will be the victor. Consequently they’re nervously trying not to obviously take sides.

Fierce fighting has broken out in Tripoli
Image: Groups fighting General Haftar call themselves the Tripoli Defence Force

Many of them are furious – and much of their ire is against the West.

“They started this mess. Where are they now?” one elderly man screamed.

He was referring to the revolution of 2011 when rebels rose up against the country’s former leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

They were helped by intelligence, logistical support and arms from NATO countries – specifically Britain and France.

But there’s been heavy criticism about their lack of a post-conflict plan.

The instability which followed has dogged Libya ever since and spawned multiple militia groups, mafia gangs, rampant people-smuggling and Islamic State cells.

It is a mess – and sadly for the people of Libya – it’s just got a whole lot messier.

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