29 July 2014

Libya: Benghazi Sees Sombre Eid

Magharebia — Benghazi residents spent the week-end before Eid amidst indiscriminate shelling, rockets humming and the sound of exploding shells, and woke up to a stricken city cloaked in smoke and fire.

The Libyan Red Crescent in Benghazi on Sunday (July 27th) called for a halt to the clashes between Islamist militias and Khalifa Haftar's "Operation Dignity" forces, in order to facilitate the evacuation of civilians.

It was difficult to reach families living in tense areas, Red Crescent head Kais Fakhri told Bawaba.

The health ministry said Sunday that the violence had killed close to 100 people, with 400 people wounded.

Saturday witnessed the heaviest fighting, as battalions of jihadist militants attacked the headquarters of the elite forces of the Libyan army in the area of Buatni south of downtown Benghazi.

According to locals, the Buatni and Leithi neighbourhoods of the city look like a war zone.

One man told the Libya Herald: "I saw one missile hit the grocery store near my house, blowing out the front of it."

Many Benghazi areas have witnessed indiscriminate shelling and crossfire. Various types of heavy and light weapons are being used, in addition to suicide bombings by Islamists and aircraft attacks by Haftar's forces.

The Benghazi Municipal Council on Saturday appealed to the warring parties to stop fighting.

Differences had "escalated into bloody clashes and shelling between the conflicting parties, which resulted in the loss of life, destruction of property, disruption of economic life and the displacement of the population", it said.

Many families have been forced to flee the embattled neighbourhoods to seek shelter from the fighting, especially in the city centre.

The armed conflict began in Benghazi last May when Haftar launched his initiative to purge the city of terrorists.

Even though the battles between the two sides have been going on for nearly three months, last week witnessed a serious escalation in the severity of the fighting, when the militias attacked Libyan army sites in Buatni, which is considered a strategic location.

The latest attack coincided with news confirming the arrival of reinforcements from Derna to support armed brigades against Haftar, in addition to the return of Libyan fighters from al-Battar battalion in Syria that joined Ansar al-Sharia.

The battles resulted in water, electricity, and telecommunication cuts and shuttered vital services in the city. Even medical personnel were unable to work.

Tariq Elourfi, a local official in Benghazi, called on the city's population to protect their neighbourhoods. He also appealed to elders in Benghazi and its environs to intervene.

Meanwhile, Ansar al-Sharia announced the death of nine of its leaders, including Ahmed al-Zahawi, brother of its emir, Mohamed al-Zahawi.

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