Libyan forces said they foiled three attempted car bombings in renewed heavy fighting against Islamic State holdouts in the group’s former stronghold of Sirte on Thursday.
Forces led by brigades from the western city of Misrata and supported since Aug. 1 by U.S. airstrikes have surrounded militants in a gradually shrinking residential area in central Sirte after a four-month campaign.
At least eight of the Misrata-led forces’ fighters were killed on Thursday, according to field hospital figures. The forces said they had recovered the bodies of 10 Islamic State militants.
Tanks positioned around the area still occupied by Islamic State launched a continuous barrage of fire, backed up by mortars and anti-aircraft guns, a Reuters witness said.
After advancing rapidly on Sirte in May the Misrata-led forces have suffered high numbers of casualties from sniper fire, suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices. More than 500 have been killed and more than 2,000 wounded.
Islamic State expanded into Libya in 2014, taking advantage of the political chaos and security vacuum that developed after Moammer Gadhafi was toppled in an uprising five years ago.
The jihadi group took full control of Sirte last year, setting up an important base for foreign fighters and expanding its control along about 250 km (140 miles) of Libya’s Mediterranean coastline.
Other reports said 10 jihadists and nine pro-government fighters died in clashes Thursday around the last positions of the Islamic State group in the coastal city of Sirte, medical and military sources said.
“Our forces are advancing on the last holdouts of Daesh” in the only district of Sirte still held by IS, said the media office of the pro-government fighters, using an Arabic acronym for the jihadi group.
Three car bombs driven by jihadis were destroyed before reaching their targets, it said.
Sirte was an IS stronghold before forces loyal to the country’s Government of National Accord launched an offensive against the jihadis in May.
The hospital in Misrata, a town half-way between Sirte and Tripoli, to which casualties are ferried, said on Facebook that nine pro-GNA fighters were killed and 40 wounded.
Loyalist military sources said at least 10 IS militants also died in the latest bout of the four-month-old battle.
Suicide bombings and sniper fire from the cornered jihadis have slowed the offensive to retake Sirte, 450 km (280 miles) east of the Libyan capital Tripoli.
More than 450 members of the loyalist forces have been killed and around 2,500 wounded since the operation began. Losses in IS ranks remain unknown.