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Renegade Libyan general vows to continue campaign against Islamist militants

The death toll from clashes in eastern Libya has risen to more than three dozen. Meanwhile, renegade general Khalifa Haftar has vowed to continue his vigilante campaign against Islamist militants in the city of Benghazi.

A shaky calm returned to Benghazi on Saturday, as mediators reportedly sought to arrange a truce between retired General Haftar's renegade militia and Islamist militants. Meanwhile, the Libyan Health Ministry has reported that the death toll from yesterday's clashes had jumped to 37.

"More bodies are coming in from areas outside of Benghazi," a hospital worker told the Reuters news agency.

Haftar's self-declared Libyan National Army

targeted Islamist militant groups

- with reports variously referring to Ansar al-Sharia as well as the February 17 and Rafallah al-Sahati militias - with ground and air power on Friday. The retired general, who spent years exiled in the United States, has vowed to rid the city of "terrorists."

"The operation will continue until Benghazi is purged of terrorists," Haftar told Libya Awalan television on Saturday.

Government denies involvement

The Libyan government in Tripoli has condemned the retired general's actions, saying that it was not sponsoring his armed campaign in Benghazi.

"The army has nothing to do with the clashes," Libyan armed forces chief of staff Abdessalam Jadallah al-Salihin said. "The army did not give any orders for any sort of operation."

Since NATO-backed rebels ousted and killed dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, heavily armed militias have operated in Libya with a free hand. In September of 2012, Islamist militants attacked an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, killing US Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Recently, Tripoli acknowledged for the first time that terrorist groups were operating in Libya. The government has said that it is mobilizing forces to deal with the threat.

slk/jm (AFP, Reuters)

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