Heavy fighting renews in Libya's second-largest city

AP News
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Posted: Feb 08, 2015 12:28 PM

Heavy fighting flared up in Libya's second-largest city, Benghazi, on Sunday as forces loyal to the internationally recognized elected government try to retake areas controlled by extremist militias.

An official from the special forces loyal to the elected government said the ongoing operation in areas across the city started early Saturday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists, said the air force is backing up the ground troops and the fighting continues.

"I hope it's the last battle but I don't think it will end today. The evil forces still have power but it's a matter of days," he said.

He said two men in his unit had been killed in the operation. A medical official at al-Jalaa hospital, one of only two working hospitals in Benghazi, said at least 10 people had been killed and 23 wounded since yesterday.

The toll is likely to be significantly higher. Witnesses said corpses could be seen on the streets of central Benghazi Saturday as screams and ambulance sirens rang out.

Area residents said the military has taken control of large portions of al-Leiti, a Benghazi district regarded as a major stronghold for the extremist militias. They say government troops were visible on the streets of central Benghazi.

Last year, retired Gen. Khalifa Hifter led a unilateral offensive against the Benghazi militias; on Oct. 15, Hifter formally joined ranks with the elected government. Since then they have managed to take control of most of the city.

The widespread militia violence has plunged Libya into chaos less than four years after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The country's post-Gadhafi transition has collapsed, with two rival governments and parliaments — each backed by different militias — ruling in the country's eastern and western regions. The elected parliament was never allowed to properly convene due to a takeover of the capital, Tripoli, by Islamic and tribal militias. That parliament has been forced to function in the eastern city of Tobruk while the pre-election parliament has declared itself legitimate and remains in Tripoli.