Fierce fighting kills 18 in Benghazi

June 03, 2014 - 12:27:59 am
Smoke rises during clashes between irregular forces loyal to former army general Khalifa Haftar and Islamists in the eastern city of Benghazi, yesterday.

BENGHAZI: Fierce fighting between Islamists and a rogue Libyan general killed at least 18 people in Benghazi yesterday, triggering fears of an all-out war as hospitals urged citizens to donate blood.

Officials at hospitals in the eastern city, the birthplace of the 2011 Nato-backed uprising that toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi, said at least 11 soldiers were among the dead and that 81 people were wounded.

The government of outgoing prime minister Abdullah al-Thani said it was holding an “emergency meeting” on the violence, which residents said had eased in the afternoon.

An air force commander said the clashes erupted when three Islamist groups, including Ansar Al Sharia, attacked a base of elite forces who support the renegade general, Khalifa Haftar. Images posted on the Internet showed army assault helicopters firing missiles at suspected Islamist targets.

The fighting was the bloodiest since 76 people were killed in mid-May when Haftar unleashed an offensive dubbed “Operation Dignity” to purge Libya of Islamists he brands “terrorists”.

It triggered panic in Benghazi, Libya’s second city where hospitals appealed to people to donate blood.

“Benghazi is suffering, people are fed up, spare them,” the head of the Benghazi Medical Centre, Doctor Leila Buigiguis, said in remarks broadcast on television.

The education ministry closed schools, forcing the postponement of scheduled final exams.

Residents cowered indoors and many shops and businesses were closed as gunfire rang out and explosions shook Benghazi, witnesses said. They said some families were trapped in the western neighbourhood of Sidi Freij, a stronghold of Ansar Al Sharia.

Haftar spokesman Mohamed Al Hijazi called on residents in combat zones across Benghazi to evacuate. Colonel Saad Al Werfelli, who commands the Benghazi air force base, said the jihadists “bombarded base 21 early yesterday, killing and wounding soldiers (from the elite unit) who were trapped inside”.AFP

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