Libyan army claims control of large Islamist camp in Benghazi

Libya`s army and its allies have taken control of one of the largest camps of Islamist forces in the eastern city of Benghazi, military officials said on Friday.

Benghazi: Libya`s army and its allies have taken control of one of the largest camps of Islamist forces in the eastern city of Benghazi, military officials said on Friday.

Gaining control of the camp, the first to be set up by rebels who helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, would mark further significant progress for the army after taking Benghazi`s airport.

Libya is divided between rival tribes and political factions with two governments vying for legitimacy since an armed group from the western city of Misrata seized Tripoli in August, forcing the internationally-recognized Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni to move to the east.

Western powers and Libya`s neighbours fear the conflict is dragging the major oil producer towards civil war. 

Last week, the army and allied forces of a former general, backed by youths, launched an offensive against Islamists such as the Ansar al-Sharia which had taken control of the February 17 camp and other parts of the city. More than 120 people have been killed since then, medics say.

The struggle is part of a wider conflict in the North African country where former rebels use their guns to fight for power and a share of oil revenues.

The army was securing the Islamist camp, said Ahmed al-Mismari, a spokesman for the chief of staff. "We are cleansing the camp," he said. Mohamed El Hejazi, spokesman for former general Khalifa Haftar allied to the army, said the same.

It was impossible for a Reuters journalist to access the area. Gunfire could be heard in some parts of the city.

The army had already expelled Islamists from the area near the city`s airport they had been trying to take for weeks. New army units arrived this week in Benghazi from outside, in a rare presence of pro-government forces in the city.

The army had already claimed control of the camp last week. Now a video posted on social media showed soldiers sitting on tanks securing the camp`s gate and celebrating. A soldier told Reuters by phone the army was searching for booby traps before entering the camp.

Benghazi has been a battlefield since Haftar declared war on Islamists in May, using airplanes to battle Ansar al-Sharia, blamed by Washington for a 2012 assault on the former US consulate during which the US ambassador got killed.

The situation in Benghazi and other parts of Libya has been fluid as the army is unable to control militias which have often better arms. Haftar`s forces have planes from Libya`s outdated air force though his opponents say he is backed by Egypt, worried about the spread of militants. Haftar denies this.

Most foreign embassies pulled out their staff in summer when the Misrata-led forces expelled a rival force from Tripoli.

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