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Tunisia's Ben Gardane calm amid strict curfew

Karem Yehia in Ben Gardane, Friday 18 Mar 2016
Tunisia
Tunisia
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Calm has been restored in Tunisia's Ben Gardane, 550km away from the capital Tunis, following the Islamic State (IS) group's attacks on the city earlier this month.

After curfew hours ended early Wednesday morning, public facilities were reopened in the city, which saw the defeat of IS militants by security forces.

Economic activities, however, continue to be affected by the closure of the Ras Gadir crossing near the Tunisian-Libyan border in the aftermath of the IS attacks, which were considered by the Tunisian authorities as a failed attempt to "establish an Islamist province in this area."

Ben Gardane has numerous military and police checkpoints where people are allowed to pass only after showing their identification cards.

There are almost no Libyan tourists in Ben Gardane, with many of the downtown currency exchange shops closed, and the few still operating seeing few customers, if none.

Samir Nagy, spokesman of the syndicate of the internal security forces in Ben Gardane, told Ahram Online that citizens are respecting the curfew and providing logistical and informational support for the "anti-terrorism troops."

Nagy stressed that security forces are continuing their operations against IS members and are seeking to discover more of their weapons stores, pointing out that they are using advanced weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and anti-aircraft missiles.

Eyewitnesses in the city said that unlike last Sunday, no sounds of gunfire have been heard; an indication of security stability.

However, a convoy of military vehicles was seen moving towards the northern borders of the city 30 minutes before the curfew.

According to the locals, the military vehicles were chasing an IS vehicle crossing from the Libyan side, however, this could not be independently confirmed by Ahram Online. 

Meanwhile, bullet holes were seen on the façade of a military base and a mosque's minaret in the Galal neighbourhood, which eyewitnesses said was the site of confrontations between the security forces and militants on 7 March.

Ahmed Al-Ashi — who owns a house near the military base that bore signs of combat — told Ahram Online that the IS militants had occupied his house before the security forces managed to drive them out in a three-hour battle, leading to the death of two militants and the wounding of two others.

So far, the clashes between the security forces and IS have caused the death of eight civilians — including a 12-year-old girl — and three security personnel, whose images have been posted in the streets since their deaths one week ago. 

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