By Esam Mohamed Associated Press
TRIPOLI, Libya — A Libyan air force jet bombed positions held by Islamic militants Sunday in the eastern city of Benghazi, a senior military official said, apparently as part of an ongoing offensive by a renegade general.
The official said the bombing targeted a base belonging to a local militia group called February 17 and the area of Sidi Faraj, where members of the extremist organization Ansar al-Shariah are located.
An official from Ansar al-Shariah said no one was hurt in the bombing and claimed that one of two rockets fired by the aircraft hit a car dealership.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.
In a separate raid, aircraft also targeted a palace that once belonged to Libya’s toppled ruling family in the western section of Benghazi, said a spokesman for forces loyal to renegade Gen. Khalifa Hifter. The spokesman, Col. Mohammed Hegazi, said the palace was being used by militants.
The aircraft apparently launched the attack on the behalf of Hifter, who has been leading a military campaign against Islamists dominating Libya’s political scene. He has vowed to crush the Islamists and many military units back him, a position that he stressed again in a news conference late on Saturday.
“We will not stop until the people’s demands are met,” said the 70-year-old Hifter, who also called on Libya’s tribes to support him.
Hifter claims to have more than 75 percent of Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, under his control. He also says he is getting help from moderate Islamists who were breaking away from their militias and joining his forces. The eastern city was the birthplace of the 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Hifter is based in Benghazi, where he has been leading an armed revolt since late last month in what is perhaps the biggest challenge yet to Libya’s weak central government and fledgling security forces since Gadhafi’s ouster.
He has dubbed his offensive “Operation Dignity,” saying it is aimed at breaking both Islamic militias and their supporting political factions dominating the parliament, already weakened by constant street protests by Libyans demanding its disbandment.
Backed by military jets flown by pilots who have sided with him, Hifter’s forces frequently have bombed the outskirts of Benghazi, forcing militias to withdraw from their compounds, Hegazi said.