Forces loyal to Libya’s unity government advance deep into Sirte

Forces loyal to Libya's internationally backed unity government managed Wednesday to advance deep into the western parts of Islamic State's main stronghold, Sirte city, a senior military official told dpa on condition of anonymity.

The forces took control of the areas of Gharbiat bridge, which the extremist group used to execute its victims, Zaafran roundabout at the entrance of the city and Jalet military camp, located about 5 kilometers from the city centre, the source added.

The source gave no further details on the onslaught.

Nearby hospitals received the bodies of six troops and 30 others injured during fierce fighting between the two sides, announcing a state of emeregency, al-Wasat reported, Libya's independent al-Wasat news portal reported, citing hospital officials.

Sirte is centrally located on the North African country's Mediterranean coast. On Monday, the forces forced the militants to retreat into Sirte after achieving major advances there.

Pro-government units now have control over Sirte's civil and military airports as well as areas to the west and south-west of the city. Boats are monitoring the coast to prevent the extremist group's fighters fleeing by sea.

Monday’s development points to a rapid advance by forces loyal to the nascent unity government, whose Presidency Council started operating in the capital Tripoli in March.

Last week, paramilitaries that have also declared their loyalty to the government captured the towns of Nofaliyeh and Ben Jawad east of Sirte.

But military units backing a rival government based in the eastern city of Tobruk have also been advancing on Sirte from the south.

Islamic State took advantage of a 2014 split between rival governments based in Tripoli and Tobruk to seize territory along the sparsely populated central coast.

Analysts say the group has brought seasoned fighters from Syria and Iraq to bolster its presence in Libya. Islamic State fighters coming from Libya have also perpetrated attacks in neighbouring Tunisia.

World powers hope that the planned government of national accord will be able to form united security forces to take on Islamic State, as well as potentially having a mandate to authorize outside military assistance such as airstrikes.

However, under the UN-backed peace plan the full unity government cannot take office until it is approved by the Tobruk parliament, where allies of the assembly's powerful military chief, General Khalifa Haftar, are blocking a vote.

Libya has suffered from chaos since the 2011 overthrow of dictator Moamer Gaddafi, with numerous revolutionary militias formed along regional and ideological lines vying for power.

Last update: Thu, 09/06/2016 - 09:49
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