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Rising Toll in Libya’s Fractured Fighting

BENGHAZI, Libya — Libya’s internationally recognized government has asked fellow Arab states to conduct airstrikes against the Libyan branch of the Islamic State in the coastal city of Surt, a cabinet statement said on Saturday.

In the past few days, the Islamic State has crushed a revolt by a rival Salafist group and armed residents who tried to break its grip on the city. Dozens of people have been killed, according to residents.

Libya’s temporary government, based in the cities of Tobruk and Bayda, said in the statement that it urged “the Arab brother states” to conduct airstrikes against “positions of the Daesh terrorist group in Surt,” using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

The fighting began on Tuesday in Surt, a central city about 300 miles east of the capital, Tripoli. Islamic State fighters took over Surt in February, expanding their presence in the North African country by exploiting a security vacuum, as they did in Iraq and Syria.

Fighting raged until early on Friday before dying down when the Islamic State took back a district that the Salafists and residents had tried to seize, residents said.

In the main eastern city, Benghazi, the Islamic State attacked forces loyal to the official government on Wednesday. Islamic State fighters killed nine soldiers and destroyed a tank and three military vehicles, residents and medics said on Friday.

Seven soldiers were also wounded in the attack, which took place near the commercial port, closed for more than a year because of the fighting. A warplane could be heard later as government forces brought in reinforcements.

The fighting typifies the chaos in Libya, where two rival governments and parliaments, together with an assortment of Islamists, tribesmen and armed groups, are battling for control of cities and regions, four years after Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, who ruled for four decades, was ousted.

The official government has been based in eastern Libya since losing control of Tripoli a year ago to a rival group, which set up its own administration. Neither has control of Surt, Qaddafi’s hometown.

Both governments have conducted airstrikes against the Islamic State in Surt in recent days, but their capabilities are very limited, relying on outdated warplanes and helicopters from the Qaddafi era and lacking precision guns.

It was not clear how Arab states might respond. An Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes in Yemen in late March in an effort to stop an Iran-allied rebel movement from spreading across the country from the north.

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(via NY Times)