Libya clashes with Islamists kill 19 soldiers in Benghazi
BENGHAZI (Libya) - A total of 19 Libyan soldiers were killed over the past 24 hours in the eastern city of Benghazi, during a new Libyan army push to retake the city from Islamic militants, officials said on Thursday.
Elsewhere in Libya, a local Islamic State affiliate claimed responsibility for a pair of suicide bombings.
Army chief Gen. Khalifa Hifter is seeking to break months of stalemate and fully retake Benghazi.
His offensive has primarily targeted the militant stronghold district of al-Laithi and government jets bombed multiple positions overnight and early Thursday morning, a military official said.
The bodies of six soldiers were brought to the Benghazi Medical Center, hospital spokesman Khalifa Gwaider said.
A second army official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said 13 bodies were brought to other area hospitals.
In the western city of Misrata — whose militias compose the most powerful militias in control of the capital, Tripoli — a suicide car bomber attacked a checkpoint 60 kilometers (37 miles) east of the city killing one soldier and injuring three, a witness said.
In a short statement posted on social networking sites, an Islamic State affiliate in Libya claimed responsibility for the attack.
A day earlier, IS also claimed responsibility for a second suicide bombing near the central city of Sirte — one of the group's strongholds — in which a bomber detonated his device at a checkpoint near the town of Hawara, killing one soldier.
Nearly four years after the ouster of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya is consumed by chaos.
The country split is between an elected parliament and weak government, which were forced to relocate from Tripoli to the far eastern cities of Tobruk and Bayda, and a rival government and parliament in Tripoli set up by the Islamist-linked militias that control the capital.
The turmoil has enabled the rise of an active Islamic State branch, which now controls at least two cities along the country's coastline.