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Libya forces say pushing back Daesh militants

By Reuters - May 18,2016 - Last updated at May 18,2016

In this October 22, 2011 file photo, a general view of buildings ravaged by fighting in Sirte, Libya (AP photo)

MISRATA — Forces loyal to Libya's UN-backed unity government pushed the Daesh terror group fighters back towards their stronghold of Sirte on Wednesday, regaining more ground they had lost to the militants earlier this month, a military spokesman said.

In a televised statement from the streets of Abu Grain, spokesman Mohamed Al Gasri said the forces had "liberated" the small town and two nearby villages after heavy fighting.

Western powers are counting on the new government to unify Libya's political and armed factions to take on Daesh. The government arrived in Tripoli in late March and is still trying to establish its authority.

Daesh gained control over Sirte last year and has built up its most important base outside Syria and Iraq in the Libyan coastal city. However, it has struggled to hold on to territory elsewhere in Libya.

Daesh militants overran the town of Abu Grain and several villages after staging suicide attacks against checkpoints in the area on May 5.

The unity government then created a new operations room in Misrata, which announced a campaign to recapture Sirte.

Abu Grain is about 140 kilometres west of Sirte and about 100 kilometres south of Misrata.

Two members of the military forces were killed and 15 wounded in Wednesday's fighting, Misrata hospital spokesman Aziz Issa said. The advance came a day after military forces retook Abu Grain checkpoint.

They now also control the villages of Abu Najaym and Zamzam, Gasri said.

"We declare the completion of the first stage of Al Bonyan Al Marsous after we pushed the militants of Daesh back to the outskirts of Sirte," he said, referring to the name the operations room gave to the campaign for Sirte.

A report published on Wednesday by campaign group Human Rights Watch found that Daesh in Sirte had unlawfully executed at least 49 people accused of offences including spying, sorcery, and blasphemy over one year from February 2015.

It quoted a military intelligence officer in Misrata as saying Daesh had some 1,800 fighters in Sirte and that at least 70 per cent of them were foreign.


Some two-thirds of the city's residents have fled, the report said.

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