San Francisco Chronicle

Fierce clashes, blast at a depot kill more than 60


CAIRO — 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 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-U.N. brokered government. 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 Islamic State. Along with the 36 militiamen killed, mostly in direct gun battles with the militants, Misrata hospital spokesman Abdel-Aziz Essa also said that about 140 were wounded in Tuesday’s battles.

Islamic State fighters reportedly have hunkered down at the militant group’s headquarte­rs in Sirte, the sprawling Ouagadougo­u convention center that was built by the late dictator Moammar Khadafy. Sirte was also Khadafy’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 on Tuesday 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.

The high death toll illustrate­s the violence that has roiled Libya since Khadafy’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 Islamic State-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.

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