Dozens of fighters loyal to UN-backed government killed in clashes with ISIL as the "final battle for Sirte" begins.
Forces loyal to Libya’s UN-backed government have pushed into the last areas of Sirte held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as they press a months-long offensive to retake the coastal city from the armed group’s fighters.
Sunday’s advance saw fighters loyal to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) "enter the last areas held by Daesh in Sirte: district number one and district number three", a government spokesman said, according to the AFP news agency. Daesh is an Arabic acronym for ISIL, which is also known as ISIS.
"The final battle for Sirte has started," Reda Issa said, adding that about 1,000 fighters allied with the GNA were taking part in the offensive.
In a statement on its Facebook page, the city’s field hospital said 34 pro-GNA fighters were killed and scores more wounded in clashes with ISIL on Sunday. An earlier statement had said the death toll was 25.
The offensive comes a little more than two weeks after soldiers captured a key neighbourhood in the heart of the Sirte as part of the advance that began three months ago.
ISIL seized control of Sirte, the birth place of Libya’s overthrown leader Muammar Gaddafi, last year and controlled about 250km of the country’s Mediterranean coastline before forces aligned to the GNA began operations against it in mid-May.
The US has been militarily backing the assault to expel ISIL from Sirte since August 1.
As of August 24, US warplanes had carried out a total of 82 strikes, according to the United States Africa Command .
The pro-government forces fought their way into Sirte on June 9 and seized the ISIL headquarters at the Ouagadougou conference centre on August 10.
Losing Sirte would be a major setback for ISIL, already under pressure in Syria and Iraq.
It would also be a boost for Libya’s UN-backed government, which has struggled to impose its authority and faces continuing resistance from armed groups.
ISIL still controls several residential areas, though, and the government-led fighters have previously found it difficult to advance through neighbourhoods in house-to-house fighting.
The internationally backed government’s forces and those of a rival authority in the east are currently engaged in a race to be the first to drive ISIL out of the city.
Libya has suffered from chaos since the 2011 overthrow of Gaddafi, with numerous revolutionary militias formed along regional and ideological lines vying for power.
- Losing Sirte city would be a major setback for ISIL, already under pressure in Syria and Iraq