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Libyan forces clear last IS holdout in Sirte: Spokesman

Reuters , Tuesday 6 Dec 2016
Fighters of Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government sit in a damaged house as they secure the last few buildings where IS militants had been making a final stand, in Ghiza Bahriya district in Sirte, Libya December 6, 2016 (Photo: Reuters)
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Libyan forces backed by U.S. air strikes have finished clearing the final district of the former Islamic State (IS) stronghold of Sirte in which the Islamist militant group had been holding out, a spokesman for the forces said on Tuesday.

A Reuters witness said fighting had ended in Sirte's Ghiza Bahriya area, where IS had been dug in for weeks at the end of a battle for the city that began in May.

Spokesman Rida Issa said forces led by brigades from Misrata had "secured all the buildings and the streets" in Ghiza Bahriya, though this did not mean the end of the Misrata-led operation. "We still need to secure the area around Sirte," he said.

Libyan and Western officials say some IS fighters escaped from Sirte before the battle or in its early stages. They fear an insurgent campaign from outside the city and there have been attacks in outlying areas.

IS took over Sirte in early 2015, turning it into their most important base outside the Middle East and moving large numbers of foreign fighters into the city.

The militant group imposed its ultra-hardline rule on Sirte's residents, extending its control along about 250 km (155 miles) of Libya's Mediterranean coastline.

The Misrata-led forces counter-attacked in May after Islamist militants moved along the coast towards the city.

The brigades, nominally aligned with a U.N.-backed government in Tripoli, advanced rapidly towards the centre of Sirte before suicide bombers, snipers and mines largely halted their progress.

Since Aug. 1, the United States has carried out at least 495 air strikes against IS in Sirte.

In recent days dozens of women and children, some of them migrants from sub-Saharan Africa held captive by IS, had escaped or had been released from militant-held ground.

A further group of women and children emerged on Tuesday as forces secured the final few buildings in Ghiza Bahriya, Issa said. Six Islamic State fighters were killed or captured, he said.

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