Fierce clashes in Libya between pro-government militiamen and Islamic State militants in the city of Sirte and an explosion at a depot near the capital, Tripoli, left more than 60 dead in just one day, a spokesman and a Libyan state news agency reported on Wednesday.
In Sirte, the last bastion of the Islamic State group in the North African country, Tuesday’s clashes killed 36 militiamen aligned with the newly-UN brokered government.
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The militias, mainly from the western town of Misrata, have been leading an offensive since early May to take full control over Sirte.
At first, the militiamen rapidly advanced into the city but the push got bogged down in recent days amid a series of suicide bombings by IS.
Along with the 36 militiamen killed, mostly in direct gun battles with IS militants, Misrata hospital spokesman Abdel-Aziz Essa also said that about 140 were wounded in yesterday’s battles.
IS fighters reportedly have hunkered down at the militant group’s headquarters in Sirte, the sprawling Ouagadougou convention center that was built by late dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Sirte was also Gadhafi’s birthplace and the city he fled to during the 2011 civil war, when Libyan rebels backed by NATO bombings forced him out of the capital, Tripoli.
Meanwhile, the state LANA news agency said an explosion at a depot yesterday in the town of Garabuli, near Tripoli, followed clashes with militias and killed 29 civilians.
According to a statement on the Facebook page of the Qarabouli municipal council, the clashes took place between militiamen in charge of the town security and armed local protesters.
When the protesters stormed the militia’s barracks, the depot exploded, the statement said. It said that the depot housed firecrackers, not ammunition.
Photographs posted on the page showed charred bodies covered in plastic sheets.
The UN envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, said on his Twitter account he was “shocked and saddened by reported violence and lives lost in Garabuli tonight.”
The high death toll illustrates the violence that has roiled Libya since Gadhafi’s ouster and death in the 2011 uprising against his rule that turned into a civil war.
Over the past years, rival militias and governments have torn the country apart while IS-linked militants gained strength, setting up a base in Sirte, along Libya’s central Mediterranean coast.
As Libya slid into chaos, hundreds of thousands of mostly African migrants flooded the country’s coastline, attempting to cross to Europe.