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Libyan forces corner IS fighters in Sirte

Libya’s pro-government forces on Monday cornered Islamic State (IS) group jihadists in their last holdouts in the coastal city of Sirte, after heavy fighting that left dozens of dead and wounded. The battle for IS’ North African stronghold was launched over three months ago by forces loyal to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).

Loyalist forces have been backed by US air raids for almost a month, amid international concern over the jihadists’ growing influence. IS overran the Mediterranean hometown of Libya’s slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi in mid-2015, sparking fears the jihadists would use it as a springboard for attacks on Europe.

Pro-GNA forces on Monday said they had encircled the jihadists in less than two sqkm of Sirte, after staging an assault the previous day on its last two IS-held districts. The anti-IS fighters “seized a little more than half of district Number Three and 70 per cent of district Number One” in the downtown seafront area, they said.

At least 38 pro-GNA fighters have been killed and 185 wounded since they began the “final battle” to retake all of Sirte yesterday, the hospital for the loyalist forces in the nearby city of Misrata said.
The pro-GNA field hospital in Sirte yesterday called for blood donations. IS casualty figures have been unavailable.

The jihadists deployed at least 12 suicide car bombs in a last bid to slow the loyalist advance, pro-GNA forces said. After sporadic clashes during the night, the front was calm on Monday morning, according to an AFP photographer in the city 450 kilometres east of Tripoli.
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