By Aymen Amzein and Moutaz Ahmed.
Benghazi, 17 May 2104:
A threat by General Khalifa Hafter made on Libya Awlan TV today to . . .[restrict]“cleanse and purify” Benghazi of Islamist militants took concrete form this evening when a massive explosion destroyed Ansar Al-Sharia’s radio station in the city’s Leithe district.
Earlier in the day, an imam, said to be a supporter of Ansar, was also reported killed at his home in Hay Salam. He was named as Mohamed Ashur.
Hafter launched his assault on Ansar as well as on 17 February Brigade and Libya Shield No. 1 Brigade, both widely viewed in the city as Islamist, from his Al-Rajma military compound in the east of the city yesterday morning. The operation which took everyone by surprise has so far left dozens dead and at least 250 wounded. Benghazi Medical Centre told the Libya Herald that it had 35 bodies and dealt with 138 injury cases. Jalaa Hospital said it had two dead and 29 injured and Marj Hospital six dead and 81 injured.
Figures could not be obtained form Hawari and other hospitals.
Despite this evening’s radio station attack and the imam killing, for much of the day there was little of yesterday’s violence. But faced with worst crisis in the city since the outbreak of the revolution, most people stayed indoors, and almost all shop and businesses shut. The airport was also closed as was the university which informed students that exams tomorrow would not take place.
There was action of a different sort, however, as the various sides moved to reinforce their positions – physically in the case of 17 February Brigade which deployed more forces in the area outside its headquarters, or in the case of others, mainly with words.
Colonel Mohammed Hijazi, spokesman for Hafter’s forces (which refer to themselves as “the Libyan Army”), spokesman for the Libyan army, caused panic, however, when he told residents of Gwarsha, Hawari and Sidi Faraj to immediately evacuate their homes in a video statement, ahead of the area being bombed to flush out Ansar and the two brigade.
“People I know in Hawari left their homes”, one central Benghazi resident said this evening.
The Presidency of the General Staff, which yesterday denounced Hafter’s assault and called on Benghazi revolutionaries to resist him, responded to Hijazi’s statement by ordering a no-fly zone over Benghazi, saying that it would target any aircraft that flouted the ban.
There were, however, doubts it had the means to enforce the threat, given that it does not control the airport.
In fact, however there were no helicopters flying overhead during the day, and no offensive was taken in the three areas.
In his statement on TV, Hafter said he could destroy those “who accuse other Muslims of being infidels”. He called upon “all officers and soldiers across the country to respond to the state of alert and join to their military compounds immediately”.
It is not known whether it was in direct response, but it was reported this evening that one national army commander in the Jebel Akhdar had said that his forces were now under the general’s command.
Also not known it whether an explosion at a police station in Shara Istiqlal (formerly Gamal Abdel Nasser Street) was connected to the crisis. There were no casualties although there was physical to buildings and a number of cars. [/restrict]