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Benghazi suburb evacuated amid fierce battles for control of Libya's second city

Benghazi residents were evacuated as army announced near total control of the city and militia groups denied reports of army success
Blast as military engineering students explode caches of captured weapons last week (AA)

Libyan armed forces are now in control of “most areas” of Libya’s second city of Benghazi, according to a Libyan army spokesperson who spoke to Sky News on Sunday afternoon.

The spokesperson announced the advance into the eastern city after ten days of fierce fighting aimed at wresting back control of Benghazi from armed militias.

The battle is now focused on the central northern suburb of Sabri, which lies some 10 kilometres from the Port of Benghazi.

Civilians were ordered to leave the area on Sunday afternoon, with Libyan army forces also withdrawing, according to Sky News Arabia.

It is thought that the move could be a precursor to a series of airstrikes in the area.

In a video published early on Saturday morning by Libyan newspaper al-Wasat, huge ground explosions rock the city’s suburban streets in Sabri.

The video, shot before the order to evacuate was issued, appears to show men in civilian clothing armed with rifles, preparing to fight alongside fatigue-clad soldiers.

Benghazi residents in many areas of the city have taken up arms in the army’s recent anti-militia advance.

However, Sabri had previously been considered a stronghold of support for militant groups including Ansar al-Sharia.

On Saturday night, the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, a militia coalition leading the fight for Benghazi against Libya’s armed forces, published a picture of graffiti that read “Sweetest greetings to the heroic young men of Sabri".

'Sweetest greetings to the heroic young men of Sabri' (Facebook / GLTOfficial)

‘90 percent of Benghazi’ under army control

The fight for Sabri comes after the Libyan army spokesperson on Saturday told Sky News that the country’s armed forces are now in control of 90 percent of the key city, which has been under militia control for at least three months.

Libyan forces on Saturday claimed that they had taken control of a base controlled by the 17 February Martyrs Brigade, the largest militia group active in Benghazi, a report refuted by the group, which later released a video claiming to show the base still under militia control.

The advance by Libyan ground troops into Benghazi has been supported by air strikes, which on 23 October hit sites including a weapons depot and a roadblock set up by Ansar al-Sharia fighters at the Western entrance of the city.

Militia groups allege that these airstrikes, which they claim are carried out by renegade General Khalifa Haftar in co-ordination with Egypt, have hit civilian targets as well as militia sites.

On Sunday, the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries issued a statement on its Facebook page alleging that Benghazi’s hospitals were suffering an acute shortage of medicine after “Haftar’s planes bombed the city’s main pharmaceuticals depots".