The Libyan Army has announced the recapture of Gawarsha in Benghazi, a strategic win pinning extremists into the last two districts of the eastern city.
Army Spokesman Colonel Ahmed Mismari said in press conference late Wednesday that the area, located in the southwest of Benghazi, was completely under their control.
“The military engineering unit is just clearing the area of land mines,” he said. “We stress that we have eliminated the last of the supporting lines for the terror group.”
The capture of Gawarsha means that extremists – including Al-Qaeda-affiliate Ansar al-Sharia and the Islamic State group – together with their militia allies are hemmed into two remaining districts: Ganfuda in the southwest and Sabri in the northeast.
Mismari added that the Libyan Air Force was carrying out airstrikes on the seashore, hitting a boat full of weapons, ammunitions and explosives at the southwestern axis of the city on Tuesday.
“The Air Force is now running reconnaissance operations monitoring terrorists on the west of the Benghazi front line.”
The operations room said that the navy was “blocking all the sea routes” in a bid to stop any attempt by IS forces to flee the city via the Mediterranean.
They added that the air force will intensify its strikes, after maintenance is conducted on a number of planes, providing them with devices like night vision.
Earlier on Wednesday, sources within the Special Forces told Libya Channel that Libyan warplanes had struck IS position around the Libyan European Hospital in Gawarsha, and confirmed the recapture of new positions close to the center. They added that they had disposed of a number of land mines, and retaken a field hospital used by the militants.
Two Special Forces soldiers were injured from improvised explosive device in a house in Gawarsha on the same day.
It followed the deaths of six Special Forces solders from 21 Saiqa brigade, in a landmine which exploded in the vicinity of the Libyan European hospital on Saturday. Four were killed instantly, two of their fellow solders died from their injuries a few days later.
On Tuesday Mundher Khartuch, part of the army’s media office, said that the military had captured ten Sudanese men, believed to belong to terror groups, from Ganfuda district, west of Gawarsha.
“They were handed to the Benghazi military operations room after they had a medical check, we found 21,000 Libyan dinars and several gold pieces with them,” he added.
There was no confirmation or denial from the other side about the latest advances. IS last released a video last week, showing their fighters in Gawarsha, including a Libyan suicide bomber launching an attack.
The army, under the leadership of General Khalifa Haftar, has fought to flush militias and extremists out of Benghazi for over two years.
Haftar’s forces have rejected the leadership of UN-backed Government of National Accord, anchored n Tripoli, saying on Wednesday that they would never recognize the body, while it was under the sway of militias.
Speaking at the same press conference where he announced the wins in Gawarsha, Mismari affirmed they refused the GNA and its Prime Minster Faiez Serraj.
“We won’t recognize any of the decisions made by that government, including the newly created presidential guards, the foreign intervention [in Sirte] and the battle of Sirte,“ he said.
Mismari vowed that they would fight the “outlawed militias and gangs belonging to [PM] Sarraj”.
The army, which is backed by US, French and British special forces, has made unprecedented gains in Benghazi in the last few months and is seeking to expand its control of the liberated areas.
Two weeks ago Haftar’s Chief of Staff Abderrazaq al-Nadhuri appointed a military man in the place of a civilian as the new mayor of the eastern city.
Colonel Ahmed Al-Areibi took the place of current mayor Omar al-Barassi, after Nadhuri met with the interim government’s local government minister in Marj.
The appointment was made without consulting local legislators, while Benghazi’s municipal council was also temporarily suspended, LANA news agency said.
Intissar Mohamed, the Ministry Spokesman also said that decision to replace the mayor came in the context of the current exceptional circumstances in the east.
But it has sparked fears of a military rule in the strategic city.
“If the military wants to run things this way, it must abolish all laws and declare martial law,” Awad al-Gweiri, a member of the suspended council, which elected its own mayor in June told Bloomberg. “Our election was legitimate,” he said.