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Libya: Gunmen attack Dbeibah’s car ahead of vote to replace him

Gunmen have attacked Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah’s convoy in the capital, Tripoli, according to sources, hours before the eastern-based parliament is due to convene to elect a new prime minister.

The attack took place early on Thursday as the interim leader was returning home, the sources told Al Jazeera, calling it an “assassination attempt”.

One of the bullets penetrated the windscreen of the prime minister’s car, but he and his driver escaped unhurt.

Exclusive footage obtained by Al Jazeera showed what appeared to be a bullet hole in the windscreen of Dbeibah’s car. The sources said the bullets were fired from a light weapon, probably a Kalashnikov.

Libya’s chief prosecutor has launched an investigation into the attack, according to the sources. The prime minister’s office has yet to release a statement.

The attack comes amid intense factional wrangling over the control of the government, with Dbeibah pledging to fight efforts by his opponents to replace him.

Reporting from Tripoli, Al Jazeera’s Malik Traina said the timing of the attack “could not be more significant”, referring to Thursday’s scheduled parliamentary session.

Libya has had little peace or stability since the NATO-backed uprising against former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The country in 2014 split between warring factions in the east and the west.

Dbeibah, a powerful businessman from the city of Misrata, was installed as head of the United Nations-backed Government of National Unity (GNU) in March, and was tasked with leading the country to elections on December 24. He was given the caretaker role on the condition that he not contest the election, but he declared himself a candidate in November in a move others called unfair.

The election was ultimately cancelled amid disputes between rival factions on laws governing the poll, and the parliament, which mostly backed eastern forces during the country’s war, has declared the GNU invalid.

Later on Thursday, parliament members are scheduled to pick a new interim leader from between two candidates: powerful former interior minister Fathi Bashagha, 59, and outsider Khaled al-Bibass, 51, a former official in the interior ministry.

The vote could see a repeat of the 2014 schism which saw two parallel governments emerge.

Dbeibah said earlier this week that he would resist any attempts by the parliament, which is based in the eastern city of Tobruk, to replace his Tripoli-based government.

“I will accept no new transitional phase or parallel authority,” he said, declaring that his government would only hand over power to “an elected government”.

The UN, Western powers, and even some members of parliament have called for Dbeibah to stay in his role until the election. A new date for the vote is yet to be confirmed.

Separately, Traina said the apparent assassination attempt on Dbeibah was a “huge setback” for Libya’s credibility to ensure the safety of its officials and foreign delegates.

“This is going to have a long-term effect,” he said, noting that senior foreign officials were able in recent years to visit the war-hit country without any incident.

“Now, with the security forces not able to ensure even the prime minister safety, people might start second guessing whether Libya’s security services can protect senior officials,” Traina added.

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