In a battle to overcome the offensive militants, Libyan forces renewed their push to oust Islamic State from its former North African stronghold of Sirte.
The forces, mainly brigades from the city of Misrata, say they are close to capturing Sirte after taking most of the city in a three-month campaign and restricting militants to a shrinking residential area in the city centre.
“We are now preparing for the decisive phase (battle) which will commence in the coming hours, God willing, against the infidels to rid our beloved city from the Daesh (Islamic State),” one local military commander told Reuters.
Sirte, the home town of toppled leader Muammar Gaddafi and the last big city to fall in the 2011 uprising that overthrew him, sits in the center of Libya’s coast, midway between areas controlled since 2014 by rival governments in the east and west.
Losing the city would be a major blow for the group, although militants who escaped or are based elsewhere in Libya are expected to keep trying to exploit the country’s political turmoil and security vacuum.
The United States is carrying out air strikes against Islamic State positions in the city, a move that has accelerated the progress of Libyan forces, whose advance had been slowed by suicide bombings, snipers and mines.