By Noora Ibrahim and Adam Ali.
Benghazi, 15 October 2014:
As fierce clashes between pro-government forces and Islamists continue into the afternoon, the . . .[restrict]worst of the fighting in Benghazi has centred around the sprawling headquarters of 17 February Brigade.
Operation Dignity has claimed to have forced its way into the massive camp which stretches from central Benghazi to the university, in Garyounis. A senior Dignity commander told the Libya Herald that pro-government forces had secured the majority of the area.
Sky News Arabia reported that Dignity forces are now wholly in control of the camp. Most of the roads leading to Fuwayhat and Garyounis have been closed.
Tanks have been deployed in and around 17 February Brigade and can be heard rumbling on the streets after 204 Tank Battalion declared its allegiance to Operation Dignity in the early hours of the morning. Its base adjoins the 17 February Brigade camp.
The Dignity commander said a series of secret meetings had been behind the move, with Dignity forces supplying 204 Battalion with weapons and munition ahead of today’s attacks. The tank brigade, which is based in Fweihat, had managed to stay neutral during months of clashes between pro-government forces and Benghazi Revolutionaries’ Shoura Council (BRSC) in which 17 February is a major player.
Its decision to join Dignity is believed to have provoked a suicide attack this morning on its headquarters which is in close proximity to 17 February Brigade camp. However, Operation Dignity has said that it was the first to attack.
Tanks have been used to destroy the walls surrounding 17 February Brigade and the initial onslaught was supported from the air. The attack was met by indiscriminate shelling from within, with damage reported to Benghazi University and surrounding residential buildings.
Medical staff at Benghazi Medical Centre (BMC), the hospital closest to where the fighting has taken place, reported three dead and four injured in the clashes so far, although this figure was expected to rise.
Elsewhere, BRSC forces have reportedly abandoned long-held checkpoints to join the fighting nearer the centre of the city. The Operation Dignity Commander said in Hay Salem, an Ansar Al-Sharia stronghold, Ansar had withdrawn from a permanent checkpoint on a central roundabout. Similarly, usual positions held by Islamists along the corniche had been abandoned, he said.
In Buhdeima, where turnout for armed demonstrations in support of Operation Dignity was expected to be greatest, the revenge killing of a member of Ansar Al-Sharia has been reported. Mustafa Sweidi was killed, allegedly, for his suspected role in the murder of Intisar Al-Ojali and her 17-year-old son yesterday, although this has not been confirmed.
Businesses have also been attacked. The well-known Kudu restaurant in Dubai street was hit by an RPG early this morning apparently because its management is believed to have been supporting Ansar Al-Sharia. There are also reports of the homes of Benghazi businessmen believed to be supporting Ansar being set on fire.
The Sidi Khalifa home of Islamist militia Mohamed Al-Araibi, known as Bouka, has also been reported as being seized by the army, weapons captured and everyone there arrested.
Elsewhere in Benghazi, where fighting has not taken place, the streets are deserted. There has been a relative lull in the clashes but the residents have said they are bracing themselves for what may come later. [/restrict]