x

Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Extremists battle Libya forces in 'liberated' Benghazi

Fighting has persisted in the district of Soug Al Jarid, located between the central neighbourhoods of Soug Al Hout and Al Sabri, the extremists' last strongholds.

A member of the  Libyan National Army fires his weapon in Benghazi's central Akhribish district on July 6, 2017. AFP / Abdullah Doma
A member of the Libyan National Army fires his weapon in Benghazi's central Akhribish district on July 6, 2017. AFP / Abdullah Doma

TRIPOLI // Clashes between rival Libyan factions east of Tripoli extended into a second day on Monday, even as extremists in Benghazi continued to battle Libyan forces days after military commander Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled army declared victory in the eastern city.

The fighting in Tripoli began on Sunday when armed groups opposed to the UN-backed Government of National Accord tried to approach the capital and met resistance from rival groups.

It is the latest in a series of attacks by armed opponents of the GNA, which have continued despite its attempts to win the cooperation of militias operating in the city and to calm bouts of violence inside or close to the capital.

"At the moment we can hear heavy gunfire," said Al Shareef Jaballah, a spokesman for the municipality of Garabulli, about 50km from Tripoli, speaking by telephone shortly after midday.

He said local officials had received reports of two people being killed by the fighting, one of them an Egyptian national.

"The clashes have resulted in severe damage to houses and shops because of indiscriminate shelling, and forced a large number of residents ... to flee," he said.

"The coastal road is still closed. The residents who have fled their homes are trapped because of the closure of the road."

The GNA has struggled to impose its authority since arriving in Tripoli in March last year. It has been rejected by factions that control eastern Libya, where Field Marshal Haftar has been consolidating his position and installing military-appointed mayors.

As temperatures climbed this month, parts of western Libya have once again been suffering from power and water cuts that residents have criticised the GNA for failing to resolve.

In Benghazi, spokesman for Field Marshal Haftar's Libyan National Army Col Miloud Zwei, said on Sunday that fighting persisted in the district of Soug Al Jarid - the extremists' last strongholds.

Col Zwei said 20 LNA soldiers have been killed by "terrorists" who had been hiding in houses since Field Marshall Haftar on Wednesday announced the "total liberation" of Benghazi.

Col Zwei said LNA forces had killed several extremists and arrested 17 since Wednesday.

Field Marshal Haftar declared war on extremists in Benghazi three years after the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

Code-named Operation Dignity, the offensive targeted several extremist groups which had overrun Benghazi after the uprising.

These include the Revolutionary Shura Council of Benghazi, an alliance of Islamist militias among them suspected members of the Islamic state group and the Al Qaeda-linked Ansar Al Sharia.

On Sunday, he was in the UAE for talks with top UAE leaders on military cooperation.

Field Marshall Haftar does not recognise the authority of the GNA, and instead, supports an alternate government set up in the country's east.

After he announced that extremists forces were driven from Benghazi, thousands of residents took to the streets of Libya's second city to celebrate.

But on Sunday the LNA urged residents to avoid entering the "liberated areas" of the city, where they said mines were still being cleared.