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Libyan Army, Islamists Battle in Benghazi

  • Edward Yeranian

FILE - Libyan soldiers fire their weapons during clashes with Islamic militias in Benghazi, Oct 29, 2014.

FILE - Libyan soldiers fire their weapons during clashes with Islamic militias in Benghazi, Oct 29, 2014.

Arab news channels are reporting heavy fighting in the center of Benghazi between forces loyal to the Libyan Army and the Shoura Council Islamist militias. The army has called on residents to evacuate, amid heavy shelling.

Pitched battles were reported in Benghazi's central commercial district of al Saberi, as Libyan Army forces tried to dislodge Islamic militants in control of the area. Libyan TV reported that the Red Crescent evacuated its headquarters in the Jumhuriya Hospital, due to heavy fighting.

A Libyan Army spokesman claimed that 95 percent of Benghazi was under the control of Libyan Army units, but he has made the same claim several times in the past week. He admitted, however, that heavy fighting was continuing and that Islamic fighters still control some areas.

The spokesman says army forces have been fighting from building to building and apartment to apartment as they try to flush out militants holed up in people's houses.

Three years after the ouster of long-time leader Moammar Gadhafi, Libya remains a country of divided, usually armed loyalties. Even the army is split between allegience to the government, in exile in the east of the country, and an anti-Islamist former army officer.

The army has been fighting an array of Islamist, tribal and regional groups, with Benghazi, a key eastern city, repeatedly swept up in the turmoil.

Sky News Arabia reports that Libyan Army special forces units have taken control of a key security headquarters on the road to Benghazi's airport. It said the military was attempting to regain control over Benghazi's port in the central business district, now held by the militants.

Al Jazeera TV (Arabic), however, claimed that the Islamic fighters, loyal to what it called the “Shoura Council,” had “surrounded a tank unit belonging to the army.” VOA could not independently verify the claim.

Al Jazeera TV, which some view as sympathetic to the Islamists, says that the army has been pounding the center of Benghazi with artillery. It also says that Islamists are being “rounded up by army units and taken to a prison in the government-held eastern city of Beida.”

Amateur video showed militants in the Islamist stronghold of Darna, in the far east of Libya, chanting slogans in favor of the Islamic State group. VOA could not confirm the authenticity of the video.

The extremist Ansar al Sharia militia, which has a heavy presence in Darna, proclaimed an Islamic Emirate in Benghazi in August. The group's leader, who made the proclamation, reportedly died after sustaining heavy injuries in fighting in Benghazi last month.

Fighting was also reported in other parts of the country. Libyan state TV reported shelling in the town of Kikla in the western Nafusa Mountains, as forces loyal to the army battle Islamists from the town of Misrata.

In the capital Tripoli, much of which is under control of the Islamist Fajr militia coalition, army units were reportedly engaging the militiamen in the south of the city. Army spokesman Mohammed Hijazi claimed that the military was trying to regain control of the Aziziya Camp, once a Gadhafi stronghold.