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Libyans return to war-battered Benghazi

Libyans return to war-battered Benghazi


More than a year since thousands of families fled an Islamic militant take-over of Benghazi, residents are slowly returning to their homes after military forces allied to Libya’s eastern government forced out the militants and regained control.

Government forces have long been battling Islamists and other armed groups in the city, which has seen some of the worst fighting in the conflict that sprung after the fall of long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi five years ago.

In recent weeks, the army has made major advances in several districts of the eastern city, including Leithi.

We returned to find our home was burned down but at least we have returned home, but it's better than 100,000 other homes.

Despite the widespread damage and destruction to entire housing blocks and shops, residents were happy be back home.

“The joy I feel is indescribable. I’m in a state of confusion, I can’t believe (that we’re back). We came back and found our home had been hit by an airstrike, but it was for the sake of our country and its martyrs,” said resident Mohammed al Ghiryani.

“We returned to find our home was burned down but at least we have returned home, but it’s better than 100,000 other homes. At least we are back with our neighbours and our family and our friends. For more than a year we have been suffering and thank God we are back. We have started cleaning up and fixing things so we can stay,” added another local Walid al Shairi.

For some, the return home was more bitter than sweet.

Special forces local commander Fadel al Hassi walked through the streets with the mother of Salem al Naili, a soldier who died in the fighting, retelling the story of his service and circumstances of his death.

Al Hassi said the area was cleared of explosives and mines before residents were allowed back.

“A large number of residents from the Leithi area have returned after explosives experts and military units searched and cleared the homes, schools, and state institutions in the area. I hope the municipal council and the government work fast to connect the electricity to the area so the residents can be comfortable in their homes,” said al Hassi.

Since 2014 Libya has had two rival governments, one based in the eastern city of Bayda and the other in the capital, Tripoli.

Islamist militants, some of whom have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State, have taken advantage of the political chaos to expand their influence in the country.