Armed clashes erupted in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, on Monday, August 14, 2023, between the “Deterrence” forces and “Brigade 444 Combat,” after the arrest of Major Mahmoud Hamza, the commander of “Brigade 444 Combat,” by the “Deterrence” forces. Hamza is one of the prominent military leaders in western Libya. The clashes resulted in casualties and injuries, halted air traffic at Tripoli International Airport, and escalated security tensions in the city.
Who is Mahmoud Hamza?
Mahmoud Hamza is a former officer in the Libyan army who joined the “Revolutionary” forces that overthrew the regime of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. He began his military career in the “Deterrence” force led by Abdulraouf Kara, which is one of the most powerful armed militias in Tripoli. Hamza separated from the “Deterrence” force in 2016 and founded the “20-20 Battalion,” based at Mitiga Airport, which later transformed into “Brigade 444 Combat.” It joined the General Staff of the Government of National Unity formed after the Skhirat Agreement in 2015.
What is Brigade 444 Combat?
“Brigade 444 Combat” is one of the most significant armed groups in Tripoli. It controls strategic areas in western Libya, securing large parts of the capital and cities like Tarhuna and Bani Walid. It plays a role in maintaining security, combating smuggling and terrorism. Hamza gained local and international recognition for mediating and reconciling rival armed militias in Tripoli and western Libya. He played a significant role in ending violent clashes between the “Deterrence” forces and the “Seventh Brigade” in 2018 and between the “Deterrence” forces and the “Eighth Brigade” in 2019. He also intervened to provide a safe passage for the former designated prime minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, to leave the capital after attempting to assume power from the current Prime Minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, in March 2021.
On Sunday, August 13, 2023, the “Deterrence” forces launched a military operation to arrest Hamza, accusing him of plotting a coup against the Government of National Unity and conspiring with external entities to destabilize the country. The “Deterrence” forces announced that they had successfully arrested Hamza and injured several of his associates. They claimed to have seized a weapons and ammunition cache linked to him. They stated that they are investigating Hamza and will refer him to the appropriate authorities.
Reaction and Escalation
“Brigade 444 Combat” denounced Hamza’s arrest as a violation of law and legitimacy, an attack on legitimate institutions. They affirmed that Hamza is an honorable officer in the Libyan army, fulfilling his national duty to maintain the country’s security and stability. They added that Hamza is not planning any coup or conspiracy but is a victim of an external plot aimed at undermining the political settlement process in Libya. They demanded Hamza’s immediate release and a transparent investigation into the circumstances of his arrest.
On Monday, August 14, 2023, armed clashes erupted in Tripoli between the “Deterrence” forces under the Ministry of Interior and “Brigade 444 Combat” under the General Staff, following Hamza’s arrest on charges of plotting a military coup. The clashes resulted in casualties and injuries on both sides, disrupted air traffic at Tripoli International Airport, and deteriorated the security and humanitarian situation in the city.
Efforts and Mediation
In an attempt to end the fighting in Tripoli, various national and international parties intervened to mediate between the conflicting parties. Among them was Prime Minister of the Government of National Unity, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, who called for an immediate ceasefire and respect for the ceasefire agreement signed in October 2020. He also called for the immediate release of Hamza and a transparent investigation into the charges against him.
The United Nations Security Council also took action, holding an emergency session to discuss the crisis in Libya and issuing a statement condemning the violence in Tripoli while expressing support for the Government of National Unity. It urged all parties to exercise restraint and adhere to international humanitarian law.
On another note, Turkey, a key ally of the Tripoli government, continued to communicate with both Hamza and Kara, attempting to persuade them to end the confrontations and engage in negotiations. Turkey expressed its willingness to contribute to resolving the crisis through peaceful means.
After two days of continuous battles, an agreement for a ceasefire was reached between the “Deterrence” forces and “Brigade 444 Combat” thanks to local and international mediation efforts. The agreement included the release of Hamza, the reopening of Tripoli Airport, the withdrawal of all armed forces from the city, and the formation of a joint committee to investigate the causes and circumstances of the clash.
The Prime Minister of the Government of National Unity praised the agreement, stating that it enhances stability in Tripoli and meets the demands of the citizens. He also thanked all parties that contributed to achieving peace in the city.