By Tom Miles
GENEVA (Reuters) - In a rare show of Libyan unity, dozens of influential Libyans from Benghazi put aside their differences to appeal for help for their hometown, a center of violence in the country's five-year-old conflict, on Wednesday.
Several of the 76 signatories, who include members of Libya's rival parliaments and more than 20 tribal leaders, told Reuters that Benghazi needed food, medicine, shelter and electricity, although they did not expect the war to stop.
In a letter hosted online by conflict mediation group the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD), they said they wanted to send a message internationally and to the Libyan people.
"We, the sons and daughters of Benghazi, protectors of the nation and its unity, coming from diverse backgrounds and sharing the common goal of saving our city and its population, unite behind this humanitarian appeal," the letter said.
Benghazi is one front in a complex conflict in Libya, with rival governments backed by loose armed coalitions. A U.N.-backed unity government is trying to gain traction but faces resistance from hardliners on both sides.
After more than a year of street fighting, the Libyan National Army under Khalifa Haftar has made progress against Islamists in Benghazi. Some residents have returned but the security situation remains fractious.
"Benghazi is at the heart of the ongoing conflict in Libya. Finding ways to improve the situation there will go a long way to supporting a solution to the conflict at a national level," the CHD's Christopher Thornton said.
The appeal called for security guarantees for humanitarian workers, rejection of radicalism, and transitional justice.
"It’s a humanitarian approach to this problem. A first step," signatory Abubakr Buera, a House of Representatives member and former negotiator at U.N. talks, said.
"I hope that parties to the conflict abide by the appeal and ensure that families caught up in the combat zones can be reached by humanitarian agencies with the necessary supplies," said Britain's special envoy to Libya Jonathan Powell, welcoming the "broad range" of signatories.
The conflict has killed almost 10,000 people and displaced 50,000 families, according to the Tobruk parliament, east of Benghazi.
"It's a failed city," activist and signatory, Eman Bugaguis, said.
(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Louise Ireland)