Libya rogue general says to press 'terrorist' hunt

Photo: Libya rogue general says to press 'terrorist' hunt / Arab World

A retired Libyan general said Saturday he would press his campaign to free Benghazi of "terrorist groups" a day after clashes in the restive eastern city killed 24 people, Al Arabiya reported.

"The operation will continue until Benghazi is purged of terrorists," Khalifa Haftar told the broadcaster Libya Awalan of the country's second city, where the uprising against doomed dictator Moamer Kadhafi erupted in February 2011.

A precarious calm reigned in Benghazi after a deadly day that saw Haftar's forces target Islamist militiamen, using both ground and air power.

Local sources said mediation efforts were under way to try to ensure combat did not break out again.

Early Friday, Haftar unleashed his forces on former rebel Islamist groups, vowing to rid Benghazi of a "terrorist" scourge.

The violence in which medical sources reported 24 people killed and 150 wounded came weeks after the government in Tripoli acknowledged for the first time the existence of "terrorist groups" in Libya and said it was mobilising against them.

Haftar heads a group calling itself the "National Army" which launched "a large-scale operation to flush terrorists out of Benghazi", spokesman Mohammed al-Hijazi said on Friday.

"This is not a civil war. It's an operation against terrorist groups," added Hijazi, who like Haftar was an officer in Kadhafi's army before defecting.

Haftar's forces pounded former rebel groups in the city, focusing in particular on Ansar Sharia, an organisation designated by the United States as a terrorist group, according to the army.

The regular amy denied any involvement in Friday's clashes, and the government condemned the operation.

The fighting subsided in the afternoon, an AFP journalist said, as witnesses reported that Haftar's forces were pulling back.

Air traffic was suspended in Benghazi during the day and an official said the city's airport would be closed for 24 hours for security reasons.

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