By Ayman Amzein.
Benghazi, 10 April 2015:
As many as 3,500 government troops are reported to be massing outside Benghazi ahead of a . . .[restrict]major, and possibly final, showdown in the city against the forces of the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shoura Council (BRSC) which include Ansar Al-Sharia.
Yesterday, the head of the Libyan National Army, General Khalifa Hafter, said that preparations to liberate Benghazi from “terrorism and extremism” were complete. This evening, he issued a blanket ban on anyone in the military talking to the media.
An army source, however, confirmed that everything was now ready for the operation to take full control of the city, but would not say when it would be.
Benghazi Medical Centre has said that it is on full alert.
During the day there were signs of unusual military activity in the city as military checkpoints suddenly appeared in various places. “It’s not normal to have one here,” said a resident of Istiqlal Street (formerly Jamal Abdul Nasser Street).
Meanwhile in Hawari and Leithi, heavy fighting continued today as the 204 Brigade, backed by a local militia from neighbouring Buhdeima, pushed further into both areas. According to the pro-House of Representatives office of the Libyan new agency LANA, “decisive progress” was made in Hawari against BRSC forces. It said the army had taken control of Hawari Hospital, the nearby Cardiac Hospital, the Teachers’ Institute, the Communicable Diseases building and the Criminal Investigation headquarters. Other reports say that it has also taken the Psychiatric Hospital near the cement factory.
Movement has, however, reportedly been hampered by mines and booby traps placed by BRSC forces.
The brigade is said to have lost seven men in today’s action although it has not been disclosed how they died. They have been named as Jamal Al-Huwat, Aisa Ramadan Al-Gatrani, Idris Al-Saih, Abdelkadar Hamed Al-Ragaig, Hamza Al-Fakrhi, Ahmad Al-Barghathi and Feisal Buazgia.
Casualties on the BRSC side are unknown.
Yesterday, two soldiers killed in the clashes and 29 others injured were taken to Jelaa Hospital. The dead were named as Mahmoud Abdul Rahman (25), and Ali Issa Mohammed (19). Some of the injured were said to be in critical condition.
Four civilians were also reported injured today by a shell exploding outside a mosque in Leithi district as they were leaving it after Friday prayers.
The prospect of a Hafter victory against the BRSC and Ansar in Benghazi appears to have concentrated minds in the other side of the country. In Tripoli, Khalifa Ghwell, newly appointed as “prime minister” by the rump General National Congress, has issued a statement in support of the BRSC.
The fact that Ansar, a main component, has been classified as a terrorist organisation by the UN appears not to bother him. Indeed, he is on record saying that Ansar Al-Sharia were “acceptable” because they were revolutionaries and were fighting Hafter.