TRIPOLI, Libya — Armed units loyal to a former general in eastern Libya told civilians to leave parts of Benghazi on Saturday as the troops prepared for a new assault on Islamist militias a day after heavy fighting there.
The death toll from the clashes on Friday rose to about three dozen, news agencies reported, with more than 100 wounded.
There was no fighting on Saturday, but the standoff is evidence of Libya’s sharp divisions.
The self-declared Libyan National Army, which includes some army and air force units led by the retired general, Khalifa Heftar, seemed intent on pursuing several Islamist militias despite calls from the government and Parliament, known as the General National Congress, to desist.
Mr. Heftar has accused the militias of killing security officials, judges and foreign residents in Benghazi over the past two years, and has blamed the central government for allowing the militias to act with impunity.
“We won’t stop,” Mr. Heftar said Saturday in an interview with a Libyan television channel. The dispute with the militias “can’t be resolved peacefully,” he said. He urged Libyans to support his forces and called for international aid “to remove this disease from our country.”
Officials in the capital, Tripoli, condemned his actions and voiced support for the militias, which were part of the revolutionary forces that overthrew Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011 and have maintained bases in Benghazi ever since. They are officially recognized as part of Libya’s security forces, but have been blamed for much of the country’s recent lawlessness.
On Saturday, the army’s chief of staff declared a no-fly zone over Benghazi after Mr. Heftar’s forces used a helicopter to strike a militia base. The leader of the congress, Nuri Abu Sahmein, the official commander in chief of the armed forces, declared Mr. Heftar and his men outlaws and their action equivalent to a coup.
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(via NY Times)