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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Heavy fighting in Libyan city of Derna, says UN 

Unprecedented levels of artillary strikes and air raids rock the city of 125,000 people 

Libya National Army Chief of Staff, Marshall Khalifa Haftar (C) and President of the Libyan House of Representatives in Tobruk Aguila Saleh Issa (R) attend the International Congress on Libya at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, 29 May 2018. EPA/ETIENNE LAURENT / POOL MAXPPP OUT
Libya National Army Chief of Staff, Marshall Khalifa Haftar (C) and President of the Libyan House of Representatives in Tobruk Aguila Saleh Issa (R) attend the International Congress on Libya at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, 29 May 2018. EPA/ETIENNE LAURENT / POOL MAXPPP OUT

Fighting has escalated in the Libyan city of Derna, with air raids, shelling of residential areas and heavy ground clashes, the United Nations humanitarian office said on Thursday.

The eastern city's 125,000 residents were facing severe water, food and medicine shortages, and electricity and water were completely cut off amid "unprecedented" violence, the agency said in a report .

Derna has been encircled since July 2017 by the Libyan National Army (LNA), whose commander Khalifa Haftar opposes the internationally recognised government based in the country's west.

Located on the coast about 270 kilometres from the border with Egypt, it is the only major town in eastern Libya outside LNA control.

"The LNA has announced that it now has control over the city’s eastern and western entrances ... and surrounding areas where clashes have been taking place," the UN report said.

Field Marshal Haftar's forces are trying to wrest the city from a coalition of local fighters and Islamists known as the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council (DMSC) or Derna Protection Forces (DPF).

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The LNA chief says he is trying to rid Libya of the threat of extremist militants.

The UN report said the LNA announced on Tuesday it had taken control of Derna's highest area and the DPF subsequently announced its withdrawal from the city's industrial zone.

"Local sources report that DPF are currently taking positions amongst civilian infrastructure in residential areas, mostly in the centre of the city and reportedly in civilian clothing," the UN report said, adding that civilians were being prevented from leaving the city.

Until this month, the LNA's campaign had been largely limited to occasional air strikes and bombardment. Since May 22, indiscriminate shelling had killed at least five civilians, including two children, the UN said.

Egypt, which backs the LNA, has also carried out air strikes in Derna against what it said were training camps sending militants into Egypt to carry out attacks.

The LNA says its rivals in Derna are linked to Al Qaeda. ISIS also established a presence in Derna in 2014, but was pushed out by the DMSC.

The UN said no aid had entered the city since mid-March, apart from a delivery of kidney dialysis materials and medication earlier this week.