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Libyan troops free foreign nationals from 'Islamic State' in Sirte

Pro-government forces in Libya say they have freed 13 foreign nationals, including 11 female Eritrean captives, from "Islamic State" militants in Sirte. Troops claim only a small part of the city is still held by IS.

Troops loyal to Libya's UN-backed government freed a Turkish and an Egyptian detainee, as well as 11 Eritrean women who were "thought to have been held hostage by Daesh," the forces said, using an Arabic term for "Islamic State" (IS).

Libyan forces loyal to the UN-backed Government of National Unity (GNA) claim they now control most of the city of Sirte, but IS has been holding out with snipers, improvised explosive devices and car bombs.

"The forces have completely recaptured the 600 block area in Sirte from gangs of Daesh, and now the Ghiza Bahriya area is the last pocket of resistance," said a spokesman for the pro-government forces.

The battle for control of the city, some 450 kilometers (280 miles) east of the capital, has been an arduous five-month campaign of street-by-street fighting backed by US air strikes.

IS expanded their territory rapidly in Libya, amid infighting between the rival factions that took control of Libya after the 2011 fall of dictator Moammar Gadhafi, which left the country in chaos. Jihadis took control of Sirte in June 2015, flying black flags above buildings and imprisoning, crucifying and beheading some of its residents.

Fighting for the town has left some 550 pro-government fighters dead and 3,000 wounded since the operation was launched. The death toll among IS fighters is unknown.

The GNA is intended to replace two rival administrations and is the centerpiece of efforts to fight jihadism in Libya and stop people trafficking across the Mediterranean.

rc/jlw (Reuters, AFP)