December 4, 2016 / 7:52 PM / 10 months ago

Women, children leave Islamic State holdout in Sirte: Libyan forces

A fighter of Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government receives as forces advance against Islamic State holdouts in Ghiza Bahriya district in Sirte, Libya December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) - Libyan forces said at least 10 women and children left the last cluster of buildings controlled by Islamic State in the group’s former stronghold of Sirte on Sunday, adding that they had edged closer to taking full control of the city.

Forces led by brigades from Misrata and backed by U.S. air strikes have surrounded Islamic State fighters in a small patch of ground close to Sirte’s Mediterranean sea front.

Several groups of women and children, as well as male civilian captives, have either escaped or been released from the shrinking area held by Islamic State in recent weeks.

The presence of civilians has complicated the effort to dislodge militants from their holdout, and several women have walked from the area only to carry out deadly suicide attacks.

“One woman blew herself up while she was coming towards our forces with other women and children early in the morning,” Rida Issa, a spokesman for the Misrata-led forces, said.

The forces also took control of nine buildings out of about 60 that are still to be captured or secured, said Salah al-Taweel, another spokesman. One of their fighters died and 17 were wounded in clashes on Sunday, the officials said.

Islamic State took over Sirte in early 2015, turning it into its most important base outside the Middle East and extending its control along about 250km (155 miles) of sparsely populated coastline.

Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Alexander Smith

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