Libyan government forces advance into former Islamic State stronghold

Forces aligned with Libya’s UN-backed government have made territorial gains in the last district held by the Islamic State in the group's former stronghold of Sirte, an official said on Saturday.

The forces have advanced in the residential Third Neighbourhood in the eastern part of Sirte, recapturing a central bank building and a hotel, Ahmed Ruiati, a media official with the government fighters, said.

"Clashes are continuing at the moment and our forces are advancing carefully," he told dpa without giving further details.

A media centre linked to the government forces reported that seven of its fighters were killed and 30 injured in Sunday's battles in Sirte.

It added that the government artillery blew up an Islamic State car bomb before it could reach forces in the central city.

"Our forces have routed fleeing Daesh remnants and made a significant advance on battle fronts," the media centre said on its Facebook page, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

In May, pro-government forces, mainly from the western city of Misrata, started a major offensive to drive Islamic State from Sirte, which the radical group seized last year.

Islamic State has since used suicide car bombings and sniper fire to slow down the government forces’ advance in the Mediterranean city, the hometown of late autocrat Moamer Gaddafi.

Last month, the United States started airstrikes in support of the Libyan forces against Islamic State in Sirte.

Sirte, about 450 kilometres east of Tripoli, is strategically important because it links Libya's east and west.

Libya has descended into anarchy since Gaddafi's overthrow in a 2011 uprising.

Islamic State has taken advantage of the chaos and established a foothold in the oil-rich country.

Last update: Sat, 03/09/2016 - 19:12
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