Haftar forces battle jihadists in Libya second city
BENGHAZI (Libya) - Forces loyal to Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who control large parts of eastern Libya, said Thursday they were locked in fierce fighting with jihadists in second city Benghazi.
Fighting was raging in Shaabiyat al-Tira area of Qafunda district, on the western edges of the coastal city, said Mohamad al-Jali, a spokesman for Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA).
A correspondent in Benghazi said the clashes broke out at dawn and since then warplanes have been pounding jihadist positions almost non-stop.
Haftar has managed to retake a large part of the eastern coastal city of Benghazi from jihadists since it came under their control in 2014.
But the jihadists still control Qafunda as well as the central districts of Al-Saberi and Souq al-Hout.
On Monday, Haftar's forces said they had routed the jihadists from Abu Sneib neighbourhood in Qafunda, after two days of fierce fighting that killed nine LNA soldiers.
Six more LNA soldiers were killed in fighting also on Wednesday as Haftar's forces pressed with a major offensive to push the jihadists out of all of Benghazi, an LNA spokesman said.
It was not immediately clear if Thursday's fighting caused casualties.
Around 60 soldiers have been killed in clashes in and around Benghazi since January 1, according to the LNA.
The spokesman said Haftar forces would suspend temporarily the fighting in Benghazi to give safe passage to three families trapped in the Qafunda area.
The jihadist groups include the Revolutionary Shura Council of Benghazi, an alliance of Islamist militias that comprises the Al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia.
Haftar, a strongman accused by his rival of wanting to install a military regime in Libya, enjoys the support of Arab states including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
On Wednesday he visited a Russia aircraft carrier off the coast of Libya, in the latest sign of growing relations with Moscow.
Benghazi was the cradle of the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Libya has since fallen into chaos, with a UN-backed unity government failing to assert its authority over the country.
The parliament based in the eastern city of Tobruk has refused to recognise the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord.
Haftar's forces are aligned with the Tobruk administration.