By Adam Ali and Maha Sulaiman.
Benghazi, 4 December 2014:
East Benghazi’s Leithi district, one of the last strongholds of Ansar Al-Sharia in . . .[restrict]the city, has seen some of its heaviest fighting to date in the past 24 hours after Operation Dignity forces launched an offensive in the area. Following shelling of the area ysterday, the LNA entered it shortly after midnight from three separate areas: Suq al Lahoum. Buhdeima and Hay Al Zawia (previously known as Hay Al-Fatah).
One local resident told the Libya Herald that the noise of the clashes had been massive and frightening. He told how he had been phoned at 2 am this morning by a friend who lived three streets away.
“He asked if I was OK and then told me that a missile had hit his house,” the resident said. “I told him to come to my home. I went outside but guns were firing away. I was crouching on my knees in the street. I called out to him. He too was on his knees up the road. Honestly, I thought I was going to die. I’ve never been so frightened. I shouted to him to stay where he was until the shooting stopped. Then when it stopped I told him to run to me as quick as possible. He did.
“About half an hour in my house he suddenly started shacking and could not move. It was shock.”
Not far away, the resident said, a butcher’s shop and the apartment above it was on fire. “People called the fire department to come and put it would but they could not because of fighting.”
Meanwhile there are persistent rumours in the area that Ibrahim Bernawi, brother of Walid Bernawi, an Ansar commander in the district, was captured by the LNA during the operation.
Despite the fighting, many local residents have not evacuated the area. “They are still at home, expecting any moment to be told to evacuate. But they don’t want to leave,” said the local resident. “They are afraid that the area will be damaged like Bel Awn. and Suq Al Hoot.”
There has been massive damage in Bel Awn district with many commercial premises destroyed in the fighting between the LNA on the one side and Ansar and its allies on the other. The area is now under LNA control although it is said to be still too dangerous for residents to return. An Ansar sniper, said by some to be a member of the Bernawi family, is reported to be firing at anything that moves.
According to Saqr Adam Geroushi, commander of the LNA air force, the Sabri district is also not wholly clear. Snipers, he told this newspaper, were still holed up at a hotel. There were snipers too in the Suq Al-Hoot area.
To the south of the city, at the university, scene of earlier intense fighting between the LNA and Ansar, more buildings were reported to be on fire today.
Elsewhere in Bengahzi, there is calm. Yesterday, to show that the situation was much improved, Khalifa Hafter went on a walkabout in Istiklal Street (formerly Gamal Abdul Nasser Street), Birkah and Zeitoun near Dubai Street, along with Geroushi and Mohamed Al-Hejazi, the spokesman for Operation Dignity. In an indication that views may be changing towards him, many locals came out and greeted him while women ululated, as at weddings.
“It shows that Bangahzi is now basically a safe city,” said Geroushi. There was still clashes in some areas, he said, but “the war is finished”.
As for Benina airport, it would reopen for flights as soon, he said, but only when the entire city was “cleared of terrorists”, he added. [/restrict]