Families Flee Libya’s Sirte As Clashes With Islamic State Escalates

Fighters from Misrata move towards positions of Islamic State militants, near Sirte

Families reportedly fled Libya’s coastal city of Sirte in their dozens on Monday after two days of clashes between the Islamic State militants and fighters loyal to a government based in Tripoli, with the violence set to escalate, according to witnesses. Reuters have more:

Families were seen packing into cars and heading westwards along the coast for Misrata, the stronghold of Libya Dawn, the armed group that backs the government in the capital, Tripoli. Some 20 cars evacuated staff from a hospital. One resident leaving the city said Islamic State had told them that more fighting was likely in the next few days. Fuel was running short in Sirte while some shops had closed, he said.

The region east of Sirte, towards Benghazi, has been a battlefield since December whenLibya Dawn tried to seize Libya’s biggest oil ports, Es Sider and Ras Lanuf, which are held by forces loyal to the internationally recognized government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni in the east.

Reinforcements from Misrata could be seen arriving on Monday on the outskirts of Sirte – the birthplace of Muammar Gaddafi, who was ousted four years ago after decades in power. Islamic State has exploited turmoil in Libya, a major oil producer, where Thinni’s government and the administration in Tripoli and their respective allies are fighting for power.

Militants loyal to Islamic State have taken over government buildings, a hospital and the university in Sirte and at the weekend fought near the city with Libya Dawn forces, although there was no major confrontation in the city center, residents said.