Heavy fighting between the armed group Ansar al-Shariah and rogue troops loyal to Khalifa Haftar, a former Libyan army general, is raging throughout Libya’s northeastern city of Benghazi.
Citing figures from medics on the ground, Reuters reported that at least 19 people died and 80 others were wounded since the fighting erupted Sunday.
Local residents say the fighting is the worst they have seen since March 2011, when forces loyal to the late leader Muammar Gaddafi tried to enter the city.
Suleiman El Dressi, a Benghazi-resident in the area where the clashes took place, blamed the government on Monday for its inability to rein in rebels — including Ansar al-Shariah. Members of the group helped overthrow Gaddafi.
“Residents are at home, and they are very scared, waiting for the clashes to be over,” he said. “The central government cannot control anything happening here in the east [of the country]. They are hopeless and useless.”
Haftar has vowed to crush Ansar al-Shariah, which he says the government has failed to control.
On Sunday a Libyan fighter jet under Haftar’s command fired at an Ansar al-Shariah base in Benghazi but did not hit its target, witnesses and a senior Libyan official told news agencies.
A member of Ansar al-Shariah told the AP that no one was hurt in the attack.
The group is believed to be behind the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed four people, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
Libya is in turmoil, with various factions locked in conflict, three years after the NATO-backed war that removed Gaddafi.
In March, the Libyan parliament unseated the nation’s first democratically elected leader, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, after he failed to control an armed group that exported oil on a North Korean–flagged tanker. The political instability has stymied efforts to restore the nation’s key natural energy sector.
Al Jazeera and wire services