Nov 3, 2014 2:01 PM

Battle in east Libya's Benghazi sets ship ablaze

The Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) Fierce fighting near the port of Libya's eastern city of Benghazi set fire to a large ship Monday, with witnesses and the country's military spokesman disagreeing whether it was an oil tanker or a naval warship engulfed in flames.

Mohammed Hegazi, the army spokesman, told The Associated Press that Islamist militias fired rocket propelled grenades from high-rise buildings overlooking the port, hitting an oil tanker.

"I saw it with my own eyes and it is a small oil tanker," he said, declining to divulge any more details about the tanker. He added that the army has previously warned oil tankers from entering Benghazi port, and said it's not clear why the tanker was present in the port. The Benghazi port has been closed for weeks.

However, witnesses who spoke to the AP said it was a naval warship that was hit in the crossfire. It was not immediately possible to clarify the discrepancies between the two accounts.

One resident said clashes in streets adjacent to the port started at mid-day Monday and intensified quickly. The shooting often appeared random, he said.

"I saw families running for their lives out of the neighborhood. I even saw women going out of the area without their shoes," he said. "A state of panic has taken over the neighborhood." He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was concerned for his safety.

Hegazi said army troops battled the militias in the city's central districts, home to Benghazi's courthouse. The courthouse was a center for the 2011 uprising in Benghazi, the first city to rise up against longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi's rule. Gadhafi was killed nearly eight months later, but Libya's turmoil has continued as rebels turned into militiamen and mushroomed in number and power, posing a serious challenge to the country's elected authorities.

Clashes in Benghazi have killed at least 210 people since government troops backed by armed civilians started a campaign in mid-October to retake the city from Islamist militias.


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