Suicide bombing kills seven in Libya's Benghazi as army launches revenge strike

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Two suicide bombers drove a car packed with explosives into an army checkpoint in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on Tuesday, killing seven people and triggering revenge air strikes by special forces blaming Islamist militants.

Benghazi special forces commander Wanis Bukhamda told Reuters militants of the Ansar al-Sharia of group were responsible for the attack in the Lithi district, a stronghold of Islamists.

Later in the evening war planes started from Benghazi airport attacking suspected Islamist positions as revenge, said Naser al-Hasi, a spokesman for the military base.

In a separate incident in the port city ravaged by street fighting, a rocket hit a residential building, killing a 17-year old girl and another person, hospital medics said. Three others were wounded.

The violence in Benghazi typifies chaos in Libya where two rival governments and parliaments allied to armed factions are competing for power in Libya four years after the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi.

Benghazi has become a war zone, with heavy clashes occurring almost daily between Islamist fighters and forces of the internationally recognized government. The port has been closed for more than four months, disrupting wheat and food imports.

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The latest violence came after Ansar al-Sharia said in a statement a senior Islamist commander, Mohamed al-Areibi, had been killed in Benghazi on Monday.

Libya’s official government has been based in the east since a rival faction seized the capital in Tripoli in August, reinstating a previous assembly challenging the elected assembly also based in the east.

Both governments rely on former rebels which helped topple Gaddafi but now fight for power. They call themselves army but are in fact lose alliances of fighters loyal to their commanders, political factions or regions.

In Benghazi the official government of Premier Abdullah al-Thinni has allied itself with general Khalifa Haftar which had started in May his own war against Islamists. The alliance started in October a new offensive to control the city but fighting continues.

Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Mark Trevelyan