BENGHAZI — Forces loyal to Libya's internationally recognised government seized a key central neighbourhood of second city Benghazi from Islamist militias on Tuesday, the military said.
The advance came as Libya's parliament again failed to vote on a UN-backed unity government seen as a crucial step in ending years of political chaos and conflict in the North African state.
Special forces retook the Benghazi area of Lithi, which had been a stronghold for extremist fighters including the Islamic State group, after days of fierce clashes.
Fadel al-Hassi of Libya's special forces said the neighbourhood was "totally liberated".
Libya has had rival administrations since the summer of 2014 when the recognised government fled Tripoli after the Fajr Libya militia alliance including Islamists overran the capital.
A power vacuum since the 2011 toppling of Muammar Gadhafi has fostered the rise of IS, which is currently headquartered in Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, but control of Benghazi remains divided between a collection of militias.
Fighting has flared periodically in Benghazi as security forces try to wrest neighbourhoods from armed groups including IS and Ansar al-Sharia, which is close to al-Qaeda.
Residents celebrated alongside loyalist fighters, some flashing victory signs next to the bombed-out shells of buildings while others fired celebratory shots into the air.
Some residents also drove into Lithi honking their horns and flashing their lights after security forces allowed them to assess the damage to their homes.
"Today we came back to our house, after a long time, almost one year," one resident said, adding that his family would not be able to move back immediately because their house was damaged.
Army chief General Khalifa Haftar, who spearheaded the Benghazi battle, issued a video statement praising the latest breakthrough which he said was the fruit of "much patience".
Italy-US drone plan
Libya's conflict has alarmed Western governments over the prospect of extremist groups including IS establishing a bridgehead just 300km from Europe.
Italy said on Tuesday it had given the US permission to use an airbase in Sicily to launch drone strikes against IS in Libya.
Defence minister Roberta Pinotti told the daily Il Messaggero that any strike would be subject to an individual authorisation request to the Italian government and that they would only be used as a "last resort".
US warplanes flying from a Royal Air Force base in Britain attacked an IS training camp in the western Libyan city of Sabratha last week, killing more than 40 people including two Serbian diplomats being held hostage.
On Tuesday, a group of fighters loyal to Fajr Libya battled IS extremists near Sabratha, the city's mayor Hussein al-Dawadi said, adding that four of the fighters were killed in the clashes.
Meanwhile, the internationally recognised parliament based in the eastern town of Tobruk failed to hold a vote of confidence in a new, UN-brokered unity government because it lacked a quorum.
"The required quorum (89 members of parliament) was not reached, so the president of the chamber adjourned the session," said MP Mohamed al-Abbani.
Lawmaker Ali Al-Qaidi said a new session would be held next week. — AFP