July 7, 2017 / 7:42 PM / 2 months ago

Fighting rages in Benghazi after victory speech

Members of the Libyan army's special forces celebrate after the liberation of Islamist militants' last stronghold in Benghazi, Libya.Esam Omran Al-Fetori

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - East Libyan forces have lost at least 12 men, with 35 wounded, in fighting that raged in Benghazi despite a declaration of victory by their commander, medical and military officials said on Friday.

Forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) are trying to sweep up the last pockets of resistance in Sabri, the final neighbourhood in which rival armed groups still hold territory after a three-year battle for control of the city.

The battle for Benghazi between Haftar's LNA and an array of Islamist militants and other fighters has been part of a broader conflict since Libya slipped into turmoil following the 2011 fall of strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

On Wednesday evening, Haftar announced the end of the campaign in a televised speech.

A tank belonging to special forces from the Libyan army clashes with Islamist militants in Benghazi.Esam Omran Al-Fetori

But two days later clashes were continuing in a handful of streets in Sabri. LNA forces said they had stopped using heavy artillery to reduce the risk of friendly fire casualties because of the restricted area in which they were fighting.

Milad al-Zwai, a spokesman for special forces who are at the forefront of the fighting, said they had freed 10 prisoners held by their opponents as they pushed forward in Sabri.

At least five of the LNA's opponents were killed and 11 arrested, including six Libyans, four Egyptians and a Tunisian, LNA officials said.

Haftar launched his "Operation Dignity" campaign in May 2014, slowly gaining the upper hand against Islamist militants and former rebels who fought Gaddafi in the 2011 uprising.

Haftar is aligned with a government and parliament in eastern Libya. He has rejected a U.N.-backed government based in the capital, Tripoli, as he has gradually strengthened his position on the ground.

Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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