By Libya Herald reporters.
Benghazi and Tripoli, 19 April 2016:
The army is closing in on the last key enemy position at the . . .[restrict]small dock at Ganfouda into which it is reported Islamists militants have crowded, some of them with their wives and children.
This afternoon it was said that a flotilla of small boats was heading to Ganfouda to evacuate the fighters penned in there. The air force is understood to have launched several airstrikes, which may have sunk at least one of the vessels.
The presence of family members with the militants, if true, will complicate the seeming end of a bitter two-year battle. A diplomatic source said tonight that if women and children perished in a final assault, the army’s victory would be tarnished. The diplomat speculated that it might be decided to let the last fighters get away with their families.
The official army blackout on information means that today’s events can only be pieced together from a range of sources, including soldiers in the front line. But there is no doubt that the collapse of resistance by the Islamic State (IS), Ansar Al-Sharia and Benghazi Revolutionaries’ Shoura Council force has continued.
Presumably in anticipation of the victory, which he has promised so many times before, armed forces commander-in-chief Khalifa Hafter is reported to have arrived in Benghazi this evening. In photographs posted on social media, the normally dour general was beaming and giving a thumbs-up sign for photographers.
Heavy fighting resumed this morning with the army pushing into Gwarsha from Huwari. By late this afternoon, a local commander was claiming that nearly all of the district had been taken. It was also said that some Libyan militants have been surrendering while figures for their casualties vary with the highest death toll being 42.
One claimed death is that of BSRC commander Fawzi Al-Rabea, (above) who was suspected of involvement in the 2013 Benghazi assassination wave of serving and retired police and army officers, which finally triggered Hafter’s Operation Dignity. It is not clear where Rabea died.
The fighting has also claimed dead and wounded on the army side. Again figures vary but as many as 30 soldiers may have perished in the last 48 hours, including the military engineers’ spokesman Siraj Al-Tira who was killed by a booby trap on the outskirts of Garayounis.
Libya Alakhbar photojournalist Ayub Al-Joli (above) also died today in Gwarsha in circumstances that have not yet been explained. There are also reports that IS fighters in Gwarsha captured two medical workers from the Benghazi Medical Centre who were working at the front. Once again it is unclear how this happened but it suggests that IS fighters are still capable of mounting counterattacks. The fate of the two men is not known. [/restrict]