East Libyan forces said on Wednesday they had taken complete control of a long contested district in Benghazi after dozens of families and captives trapped by fighting left the area.
If confirmed, the capture of Ganfouda district would mark a major gain for the Libyan National Army (LNA) as it seeks to finish a military campaign against Islamist-led opponents that it has been waging for more than two years.
“The liberation of Ganfouda is complete,” LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari told Reuters. He added however that the army was yet to secure a separate area known as the “12 Blocks” which lies between Ganfouda and Bosnaib, another neighbourhood recently taken by the LNA.
A spokesman for the LNA’s Zawiya Martyrs’ brigade, Wahid al-Zawi, said 62 captives had been freed from Ganfouda, as well as 30 families and 46 foreign workers.
The fate of civilians trapped in Ganfouda had been a major point of contention, with the United Nations and international human rights groups calling for them to be granted safe passage amid allegations of human rights abuses by both sides.
Some 30 LNA troops were killed and 25 wounded during the past two days of fighting in Ganfouda, a medical source said.
Benghazi has seen some of the worst violence in the conflict in Libya following the country’s 2011 uprising. LNA commander Khalifa Haftar launched his Operation Dignity campaign against Islamists and other opponents in the city in May 2014.