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23.04.2019 Libya

Life must go on for Libyans despite war on their doorstep

Rim Taher
Africa Children play near the port of Tripoli, away from the battle for control over the city.  By Mahmud TURKIA (AFP)
APR 23, 2019 LIBYA
Children play near the port of Tripoli, away from the battle for control over the city. By Mahmud TURKIA (AFP)

Despite the war on Tripoli's doorstep, residents are filling the salons and cafes in some quarters of the Libyan capital as they carry on as best they can.

"Life has to go on. It will end when it ends," said Samira, who runs a hair and beauty salon in Tripoli's central Ben Achour neighbourhood.

Originally from neighbouring Tunisia, Samira has been living in Libya for years and her salon is always packed with clients.

"At least three or four brides come in each week to have their hair done and get ready for their big day," she said, as she prepared a palette of eyeshadows and brushes to start making up a young bride.

"That's as well as dozens of women who come for a haircut, to get a makeover, or skincare before a big event," she added.

Tension has been high in Tripoli since military chief Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive on April 4, aimed at seizing the capital from the UN-backed unity government based there.

The battle for control of the capital has so far left more than 260 dead and wounded more than 1,200 others, according to a toll from the World Health Organization.

Clashes have centred on the southern outskirts of the city, just 15 kilometres (nine miles) from the centre.

Fighting intensified with a counter-attack launched by GNA force on Saturday, when sustained rocket and shellfire could be heard in several districts and some witnesses reported air strikes.

Schools and businesses in Tripoli remain open when they can, while residents of the Mediterranean city try to indulge in their favourite leisure activities.  By Mahmud TURKIA (AFP/File) Schools and businesses in Tripoli remain open when they can, while residents of the Mediterranean city try to indulge in their favourite leisure activities. By Mahmud TURKIA (AFP/File)

Tripoli residents fear that the battle could escalate into a wider conflict that would devastate the North African country, already rocked by years of instability and economic hardship since dictator Moamer Kadhafi was ousted in 2011.

But for now, the honking of car horns on the seafront is louder than the distant boom of rockets and gunfire.

Schools and businesses in Tripoli remain open when they can, while residents of the Mediterranean city try to indulge in their favourite leisure activities.

"Libya is not just about television footage showing tanks and militiamen brandishing their guns or destroyed buildings," said schoolteacher Mariam Abdallah.

"We are still having weddings, parties, school activities and sports events."

'Blood and violence'

Men catch fish on the seafront, where outdoor cafes are packed.  By Mahmud TURKIA (AFP/File) Men catch fish on the seafront, where outdoor cafes are packed. By Mahmud TURKIA (AFP/File)

On the seafront in the west of Tripoli, outdoor cafes are packed, especially towards the end of the day when residents like to unwind after a day's work.

Many of the clients are students and young employees attracted by the offers of free wifi.

Issam, a waiter at a cafe, said coffee shops and restaurants provide a "rare" form of leisure in Libya, a country that has "no cinemas, theatres or concert halls".

So the "best places to meet (friends) and spend some good times are cafes and restaurants," he said.

The Haftar offensive has also displaced more than 30,000 people, according to the United Nations.

But the number could be much higher, as many people who fled their homes and moved in with relatives in safer areas did not register with international organisations.

"My daughter, her husband and their children came to shelter in our house because of the fighting, so the family has grown," said Faiza, as she shopped for some crockery and other supplies.

"It is always nice to have something new in the kitchen," she said cheerfully as she checked out some bowls with a flowery motif.

Faiza said she needed to prepare ahead of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, which begins in early May, during which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, breaking at sunset for lavish family meals.

The honking of car horns in some parts of Tripoli is louder than the distant boom of rockets and gunfire.  By Mahmud TURKIA (AFP) The honking of car horns in some parts of Tripoli is louder than the distant boom of rockets and gunfire. By Mahmud TURKIA (AFP)

"New things inspire me to create new dishes for the family," she added, her grandchildren running up and down the aisles of the supermarket.

"It's hard to come up with different meals to break the (Ramadan) fast every evening for a month," she said.

But not everyone was as cheerful as Faiza.

"It is too late to speak of a political solution," said a man in his fifties who owns a grocery store in the seafront district of Gargaresh.

"The situation won't be resolved until we're drowning in blood and violence."

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