At least two dead and dozens injured are the so far known toll of the violent clashes that took place in numerous districts of the Libyan capital during the night and into the morning hours today among Tripoli’s most powerful factions, in the worst outbreak of armed violence the city has experienced since the beginning of the year, forcing the capital’s only civilian airport to suspend air traffic.

Thick smoke was billowing over parts of the city early today and heavy weapons fire could be heard in streets, a Reuters journalist pointed out. Residents and local media reported fighting in various parts of the capital.

Clashes broke out between Brigade 444 and the al-Rada (“deterrence”) force in several areas in the city’s eastern suburbs, an interior ministry official told AFP. A hospital source spoke of two dead and over 30 injured.

A medical unit linked to the Ministry of Defense told Reuters that three bodies were recovered from Furnaz, Ain Zara and Tariq Souk districts.

The Ministry of Health appealed to citizens to donate blood to help the injured. Osama Ali, a spokesman for the ambulance service, said 19 people were injured and 26 families were evacuated from a conflict-hit area.

These two factions both supported the Government of National Unity (GNU) during brief fighting that broke out last year.

Libya has been experiencing a brief period of peace since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. Two rival governments are vying for power: the KEE in Tripoli, under Abdelhamid Dbeiba, and the other in the east, backed by Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA).

Little progress has been made towards our achieving a sustainable political solution and armed factions having gained official status and funding continue to exercise influence.

Last year, pro-government factions in eastern Libya tried unsuccessfully to oust Dbeiba in a day of heavy fighting in Tripoli. Sporadic fighting also took place this year in the town of Zawiya, west of the capital.

Last night’s “tensions started” with the announcement of the “arrest by al-Rada Force of the leader of Brigade 444,” the interior ministry official said, adding that access to Mitiga airport remained closed until this morning.

Local media reported that armored vehicles were deployed last night in several neighborhoods east and south of Tripoli after the arrest of “Brigade 444” leader Mahmoud Hamza at Mitiga Airport, located in an area controlled by the “al-Rada Force”.

Fierce exchanges of fire from heavy and light weapons broke out in Ain Zara, an eastern suburb of Tripoli, before spreading to other areas near the airport and the University of Tripoli, in the eastern part of the capital, which announced the suspension of classes.

The management of Mitiga Airport, the only civilian airport in the capital, suspended air traffic, and flights were diverted to the airport in Misrata, 200 km to the east, while aircraft parked on the runway at Mitiga were evacuated.

A resident of the Tariq Souk neighborhood of southern Tripoli said he heard fighting when he went to bed at 1:30 a.m. and louder when he woke up at 7:30 a.m.

“We have been hearing heavy exchanges of fire since early morning. My family lives in the district of Khalat Furzan about 7 kilometers away and they too hear clashes,” he said.

Videos on social media, which Reuters could not immediately verify, showed residents of the capital blocking roads with burning tires.

The “444 Brigade” depends on the Ministry of Defense and is reputed to be the most disciplined. It controls the southern suburbs of Tripoli as well as the cities of Tarhuna and Bani Walid, along with the control of road axes that connect the capital with the southern part of the country.

The al-Rada Force is a powerful militia that polices the Libyan capital and arrests both jihadists and common criminals. It presents itself as a security agency independent of the interior and defense ministries and controls both the central and eastern parts of Tripoli as well as the Mitiga airbase, the civilian airport and a prison.