by Compiled from Wire Services
Jul 23, 2016 12:00 am
Libyan forces said on Friday they had edged further into the center of Sirte as they seek to recapture the city from DAESH, following heavy fighting until late the previous evening that left dozens dead. Forces aligned with Libya's United Nations-backed government in Tripoli advanced rapidly on the militant group's Libyan stronghold in May, but they have faced resistance from snipers, suicide bombers and mines as they have closed in on the city center. Sirte had been controlled by DAESH since last year, becoming its most important base outside Syria and Iraq, and its loss would be a major setback for the group.
After a lull in fighting earlier this week, the government-backed forces launched a fresh assault on several fronts after first pounding DAESH positions with artillery and air strikes. The brigades, made up mainly of fighters from the western city of Misrata, said in a statement that they had captured a hotel on the eastern front line used by DAESH snipers, and also taken control of part of the "Dollar" neighborhood. They said they had foiled three attempted car bomb attacks and destroyed an armored vehicle. A Reuters witness saw a tank belonging to the brigades being blown up, though it was not clear what caused the explosion. The witness said shelling continued late into Thursday night, but it was quiet on Friday morning. Nearly 50 bodies of DAESH fighters killed during Thursday's clashes were counted, the statement from the government-backed forces said. At least 25 brigade members were killed and 200 wounded, according to Misrata's central hospital. Since the campaign for Sirte began in May, more than 300 fighters from the brigades have been killed and more than 1,300 wounded, a spokesman for the forces said. DAESH expanded into Libya amid the political chaos and security vacuum that developed after long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in an uprising in 2011. The group extended its presence along about 250 km of Libya's coastline, but failed to win and retain territory elsewhere in the country.
Meanwhile, the U.N. envoy to Libya has expressed shock after bodies of 14 people, apparently victims of extrajudicial killings, were found dumped in the eastern city of Benghazi this week. Martin Kobler is urging authorities to investigate. He posted on his Twitter account on Friday that he is "utterly shocked and dismayed by the summary execution," which he called a war crime. Libya's al-Wasat daily says the bodies were found in a garbage dump in Benghazi on Thursday. For the past two years, Benghazi has been convulsed with fighting between forces led by Brig. Gen. Khalifa Hifter and a coalition of militias. French, British and American soldiers are in Libya to "monitor" DAESH, a military commander in the east of the country told AFP on Thursday. "French, American and British soldiers are in the Benina base" near Benghazi, said air force chief Saqr al-Jaroushi, whose forces are allied with a government based out of the eastern city of Tobruk that is not recognized by the international community.