February 26, 2016 / 5:48 PM / in 2 years

Libyan soldiers killed as army presses gains in Benghazi

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Seven soldiers were killed on Friday in clashes with Islamist militants in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, where military forces are pressing to consolidate recent gains, an army commander said.

Military forces allied to Libya’s eastern government have long been battling Islamists and other armed groups in Benghazi, which has seen some of the worst fighting in the conflict that developed after Muammar Gaddafi was toppled five years ago.

Over the past week the army has made major advances in several districts of Benghazi, allowing some residents to return to their homes for the first time in months.

On Friday, special forces commander Fadel Hassi said an Islamic State suicide bomber had blown himself up in the Hawari district, killing four soldiers and wounding three others.

He said militants had been pushed back to one site in the area, a cement factory that was now surrounded by the army.

Three soldiers were killed and four wounded in clashes elsewhere in the city, Hassi said.

Since 2014 Libya has had two rival governments, one based in the eastern city of Bayda and the other in the capital, Tripoli.

Islamist militants, some of whom have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State, have taken advantage of the political chaos to expand their influence in the country.

Reporting by Ayman El Warfalli in Benghazi; Writing by Aidan Lewis; editing by Ralph Boulton

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