(Adds details, updates toll, background)
By Ayman al-Warfalli
BENGHAZI, Libya, June 2 At least 20 people were
killed and almost 70 wounded when the Libyan army and forces of
a renegade general fought Islamist militants in the eastern city
of Benghazi on Monday, medical sources said.
Combat helicopters belonging to forces loyal to former army
general Khalifa Haftar - who wants to purge the North African
state of Islamist militants he says a weak government has failed
to control - supported the army in the worst fighting in months.
At least 20 people were killed and 67 wounded in Benghazi
alone, hospital doctors said. Some 18 wounded were reported in
al-Marj, a town east of Benghazi, where fighting also broke out,
medical sources said.
Libya is in protracted turmoil three years after the
NATO-backed war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi, with Islamist,
anti-Islamist, regional and political factions locked in
The Ansar al-Sharia militant group attacked a camp on Monday
belonging to army special forces, residents there said. Haftar's
forces joined the battle taking place in residential areas with
frightened families staying indoors. Schools and universities
Special army troops were also seen moving reinforcements to
the area of fighting in the west of Libya's second-largest city.
Haftar started a campaign to battle Islamists two weeks ago.
Since then, public life has come almost to a standstill in the
city, home to several oil companies. Its airport is closed.
On Sunday, a warplane belonging to Haftar bombed a
university faculty while trying to attack a nearby Islamist
camp. Two people were wounded.
The government, rival militia brigades and political
factions rejected Haftar's offensive against militants as an
attempted coup after his forces also stormed parliament a week
Ansar al-Sharia, listed as a terrorist group by Washington,
warned the United States last week against interfering in
Libya's crisis and accused Washington of backing Haftar.
Gaddafi's one-man rule, followed by three years of unrest,
have left Libya with few functioning institutions and no real
national army to impose authority on the competing militias and
brigades of former rebels who have become power-brokers.
The acting prime minister, Abdullah Al-Thinni, refused on
Wednesday to hand over power to a newly elected premier. The
OPEC oil producer now has two prime ministers and a parliament
deadlocked by splits between factions.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Elumami and Feras Bosalum;
Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Ralph Boulton)