Libyan Islamist militias 'lose key territory in Benghazi'

Fighters loyal to Gen Khalifa Haftar in Libya, 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption More than a year of fighting in Benghazi has caused a great deal of destruction

Islamist militias in Libya have lost two major areas in the eastern city of Benghazi, military sources and residents have told the BBC.

"People are celebrating on the streets," a resident said.

Fighters loyal to anti-Islamist Gen Khalifa Haftar are reported to have taken over the port, a hospital and have cut off a key weapons supply line.

Thousands have fled more than a year of fighting in Benghazi, the birthplace of the 2011 uprising.

Once in the Libyan army, Gen Haftar fought with revolutionaries to overthrow long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Libya has since fragmented and has rival parliaments backed by various militias and brigades spawned by the uprising.

The chaos has allowed Islamic State fighters to gain a foothold in the country, and some are believed to be fighting with other Islamist militias in Benghazi.

In January, the UN brokered a deal between rival lawmakers to form a unity government, but this has not yet happened.

Analysis: Rana Jawad, BBC North Africa correspondent

The controversial Gen Haftar's gains give him a stronger hand in Libya's volatile political landscape, and puts military actors in eastern and western Libya on a near equal-footing in terms of territorial control.

The general and his political backers will now be emboldened to demand a greater say in who leads the army under the proposed unity government.

But the already faltering peace process could go back to square one as politicians and militiamen in the west, who are vehemently opposed to the general, harden their attitude.

One MP in the west, who played a key role in getting the big Misrata brigades to support the peace process, has already launched a scathing attack on Gen Haftar, calling him a "dictatorial coup leader".

Last year, Gen Haftar was appointed as the head of armed forces for the parliament based in the eastern port city of Tobruk.

Some of the Islamist militias he has been battling in his hometown of Benghazi are backed by political factions in the west, where the Tripoli administration is based.

Who is General Khalifa Haftar?

Image copyright Reuters
  • Helped Col Muammar Gaddafi overthrow Libya's King Idris in 1969
  • Libyan chief of staff until 1987, when he was disowned by Gaddafi after being captured in war with Chad
  • Moved to the US state of Virginia after his release in the early 1990s
  • Said to have had close ties with the CIA
  • Devoted the next two decades to toppling Gaddafi
  • Returned to Libya during the 2011 uprising against Gaddafi and became one of the main rebel commanders in the east
  • Called on Libyans to rise up against the elected parliament in 2014
  • Last year appointed head of the armed forces for the Tobruk parliament

Profile: General Khalifa Haftar

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