BENGHAZI (Reuters) - Libya’s army special forces have seized back four barracks from armed Islamist groups in the eastern city of Benghazi, a commander said on Friday, after two weeks of heavy fighting which has killed at least 210 people.
The army, backed by forces of a former general and other fighters, have waged an offensive against Islamist groups in Libya’s second-largest city - part of the chaos gripping the oil producer three years after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
Special forces commander Wanis Bukhamada told Reuters his forces controlled the eastern exit road from Benghazi and four camps, including the former army headquarters which it had lost with three others to the Islamists in August.
The army had already said it had expelled Islamists from the airport area and the February 17 camp, one of their strongholds in the port city.
“The army is controlling 80 percent of the city and is cleansing several area of members of Ansar al-Sharia,” Bukhamada said, referring to a group blamed by Washington for a 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate that killed the American ambassador.
The army took a Reuters reporter on a tour to showcase what officers said was territory it now controlled. Residents said more army reinforcements had arrived in the past few days.
Colonel Mahdi al-Barghathi, commander of a tank battalion, said fighters from Ansar al-Sharia had fled to the area of the seaport. Clashes continued in the west of the city, he added.
At least 18 people died in the past two days, bringing the death toll from two weeks of fighting to 210, medics said.
The struggle is part of a wider conflict in the North African state where former rebels who helped oust Gaddafi are fighting for power and a share of the country’s oil revenues.
Libya is divided between rival tribes and political factions with two governments vying for legitimacy since an armed group from the western city of Misrata seized Tripoli in August, forcing the internationally recognized Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni to move east.
The situation in Benghazi and other parts of Libya has been fluid as government forces are unable to control militias. Forces of former general Khalifa Haftar, which support the army in Benghazi, have planes from Libya’s outdated air force though his opponents say he also gets air support from Egypt, which is worried about the spread of militants. Haftar denies this.
Most foreign embassies withdrew their staff in the summer when the Misrata-led forces expelled a rival group from Tripoli.
additional reporting by Feras Bosalum; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Dominic Evans