IS battles rival gunmen in Libya’s Sirte
The clashes erupted on Tuesday as authorities in the militia-held capital Tripoli, opposed to the internationally recognised government, announced the launch of an operation to retake Sirte from IS.
“A real war has been going on in Sirte since Tuesday,” a council official in the city told AFP.
“IS militants and armed residents from the city have been fighting continuously,” he said, adding that Sirte was also being hit by air strikes.
“Dozens of people have been killed and wounded,” he said, but was unable to give a breakdown “because of the intensity of the fighting”.
The defence ministry in Tripoli, which was seized last year by a militia alliance known as Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn), on Tuesday issued a statement announcing the launch of “an operation to liberate Sirte”.
It said the offensive was being spearheaded by “youths and residents from Sirte and our airforce and revolutionary” fighters.
Following the fall of dictator Moamer Kadhafi’s regime in 2011, Libya has two parliaments and two governments vying for power, one based in Tripoli and one in Tobruk in the east.
Only the Tobruk-based government is recognised by the international community.
IS, which already controls large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, has exploited the chaos in Libya, notably taking control in June of Sirte, 450 kilometres (280 miles) east of Tripoli.
The jihadists control a district known as “neighbourhood three” in the east of Sirte, Kadhafi’s hometown.
The Tobruk-based government denounced the violence in Sirte in a statement late Thursday and urged the international community to “assume its moral responsibilities” against IS.
The statement said that world powers were using “double standards” by fighting IS in Syria and Iraq and “turning a blind eye” to the presence of the jihadists in Libya.