CAIRO (AP) — Libya's army spokesman said an oil tanker caught fire on Monday amid fierce fighting between pro-government forces and Islamist militias in the eastern city of Benghazi, sending heavy black smoke into the sky.
However witnesses say it was a naval vessel that was hit in the crossfire. It was not immediately possible to clarify the discrepancies between the two accounts.
Mohammed Hegazi, the army spokesman, told The Associated Press that Islamist militias fired rocket propelled grenades from high-rise buildings overlooking the port, hitting the oil tanker on Monday.
"I saw it with my own eyes and it is a small oil tanker," he said, declining to divulge any more details about the tanker. He added that the army has previously warned oil tankers from entering Benghazi port, and said it's not clear why the tanker was present in the port.
Hegazi says army troops are battling the militias in the city's central districts where Benghazi's court house is located. The court house was center stage for the 2011 uprising in Benghazi, the first city to rise up against longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi's rule. Gadhafi was killed nearly eight months later, however Libya's turmoil continued as rebels-turned-militiamen mushroomed in number and power, posing a serious challenge to the country's elected authorities.
Pictures posted on residents' social networking accounts showed many of Benghazi's streets littered with chunks of cement, buildings catching fire, burnt vehicles and fighters in civilian clothes guarding their districts.
The army in recent days warned residents to evacuate the area to avoid civilian casualties. The Benghazi port has been closed for weeks.
Clashes in Benghazi have killed at least 210 people since government troops backed by armed civilians started a campaign in mid-October to retake the city from Islamist militias.