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Libya's east-based forces say key coastal city captured

Libya's east-based forces say key coastal city captured

BENGHAZI (AP) — Libya's east-based forces said they captured the strategic coastal city of Sirte on Monday from the internationally-recognized government.

The announcement comes amid an a major offensive by the east-based forces to take the capital Tripoli. The city is the seat of a rival Libyan government supported by the United Nations. Libya is currently governed by dueling authorities in the east and in Tripoli in the west, each relying on different militias.

Commander Khalifa Hifter declared a “final” and decisive battle to take Tripoli last month. Fighting and shelling between the two sides has been raging there since April, with neither side making much progress.

Ahmed al-Mosmari, a spokesman for Hifter's self-styled Libyan National Army, announced Sirte had been taken in a press conference in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Sirte was the hometown of former president Moammar Al-Gadhafi. He was killed in 2011 after an international military coalition helped Libyan rebels oust him from power.

After that, Sirte was controlled for a time by Islamist militants who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, until being defeated in 2016.

Hifter's forces are backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia.

The Tripoli-based government receives aid from Turkey, Qatar and Italy.

The fighting threatens to plunge oil-rich Libya into another bout of violence similar in scale to the 2011 conflict.