38 Killed in Libya Clashes 07/27 10:54
CAIRO (AP) -- Heavy clashes between Libyan soldiers loyal to a renegade
general and Islamist-led militias killed 38 people --- including civilians ---
in the country's restive east, health officials said Sunday, as fighting
between rival militias around the capital's international airport raged on.
Forces loyal to Gen. Khalifa Hifter battled militias in the eastern city of
Benghazi in clashes that started Saturday and continued through early Sunday
morning, a security official said. Commando forces regained control of four
military camps captured by Islamist militias in the past few days, the official
said. The fighting killed eight of the militias' fighters including the brother
of an alleged leader of an al-Qaida-inspired group, the official and a militia
website statement said.
A statement published on the website of the powerful Islamist militia
Rafallah Sahati confirmed the death of Ahmed al-Zahawi, brother of Mohammed
al-Zahawi, the leader of Ansar al-Shariah. U.S. officials believe Ansar
al-Shariah was behind the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi that killed U.S.
Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Rockets fired during the fighting hit civilian homes, causing casualties and
wounding dozens of people, health officials said.
More than two months ago, when Hifter started his offensive to crush
Islamist militias and their political backers, Mohammed al-Zahawi vowed to
continue fighting, calling Hifter an "American agent." Hifter, who once served
as dictator Moammar Gadhafi's top military official, later defected and spent
years in the U.S., though U.S. officials have said they have not been in recent
contact with him.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not
authorized to brief reporters.
The fighting in Benghazi came as fierce clashes resumed between rival Libyan
militias for control of Tripoli's international airport. The battle began two
weeks ago when Islamist-led militias --- mostly from the western city of
Misrata --- launched a surprise assault on the airport, under control of rival
militias from the western mountain town of Zintan.
The fighting has killed dozens of people and forced residents to flee.
Associated Press video of clashes Saturday showed a jet airplane burning and
heavy smoke rising over it, as militiamen fired rockets and heavy machine guns.
Shells struck the airport Sunday, while a main market and shopping center
near the airport caught on fire.
A statement Sunday by the Libyan Health Ministry said that the ongoing
battle for the airport has killed 79 people and wounded more than 400. On
Saturday, 23 Egyptians were killed when a rocket struck their house in Tripoli.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry condemned the attack.
More than three years after Gadhafi's downfall, Libya is witnessing one of
the worst bouts of violence amid growing lawlessness in the country. On
Saturday, the U.S. evacuated its diplomats in Tripoli to neighboring Tunisia
and shut its embassy. The U.N. Support Mission in Libya and the International
Committee of the Red Cross have withdrawn their staff as well.
Also on Sunday, gunmen attacked a British embassy convoy in Tripoli, firing
on a car but wounding no one, Ambassador Michael Aron said on Twitter. A Libyan
official said investigators believed the attackers were criminals who wanted to
steal the car.
Egypt has warned its citizens living in Tripoli and Benghazi to flee the
cities. The U.K. Foreign Office advised its citizens Sunday to leave the
country immediately because of the "greater intensity of fighting" in Tripoli
and the likelihood of further attacks on foreigners.