31 killed as Islamists fight forces of renegade general in Libya

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 September, 2014, 10:13pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 September, 2014, 2:08am

Fierce clashes in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi between Islamist militiamen and rival forces loyal to a renegade general have killed 31 fighters on both sides, a security official said yesterday.

The fighting erupted on Monday, with forces and fighter jets belonging to General Khalifa Hifter pounding positions of Islamist militias called the Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council.

The hours-long clashes concentrated around the city's Benina airport and the militiamen responded with artillery.

Hifter's side lost 20 fighters while the militiamen had 11 killed, and 36 fighters in all were wounded, the official said. Several of the wounded were reported to be in critical condition.

Libya is witnessing its worst spasm of violence since former dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed in 2011.

The country's divisions are deeply rooted in rivalries between Islamists and non-Islamists, as well as powerful tribal and regional allegiances between groups who quickly filled the power vacuum after Gaddafi's downfall. Successive transitional governments have failed to control the militias.

Fighting in recent months has mostly engulfed the capital, Tripoli, and also Benghazi, the country's second-largest city.

The militias in control of the capital, operating under an umbrella group called the Dawn of Libya, have also taken control of the US embassy compound, after driving out rival militias.

On Monday, Libya's newly elected parliament asked the country's prime minister who resigned last week, Abdullah al-Thinni, to form a new government. Al-Thinni had said after his resignation that his government had lost control of almost all state institutions and government offices to armed Islamist militias.

A British envoy visited Libya's parliament at its new seat in the eastern town of Tobruk yesterday in a show of support.

Senior officials and the elected House of Representatives moved to the remote east of Libya when Tripoli fell to an alliance of armed factions from the western city of Misrata in August.

"We recognise the legitimacy of the Libyan parliament," Britain's Libya Special Envoy Jonathan Powell said in a televised news conference from Tobruk.

Western powers like Britain worry Libya will turn into a failed state that could flood Europe with migrants and become a safe haven for militant Islamists.

Powell said there would be no military intervention as demanded by some Libyans tired of fighting between armed groups. Libya's conflicts could be solved diplomatically, he said.

Addressing the same news conference, First Deputy Speaker Mohammed Ali Shuaib said Libya expected the international community to help it build up army and state institutions.

Associated Press, Reuters