At least 34 pro-government soldiers have been killed and 100 wounded in clashes with the "Islamic State" in Libya. It was one of the bloodiest days since forces loyal to the government sought to retake Sirte from IS.
Some 29 people were also killed in the town of Garabulli, east of Sirte, when a blast ripped through an arms depot after fighting had erupted between militiamen and armed residents.
The website of al-Anbaa TV channel reported that 20 others were wounded in the blast.
A member of the local council in Garabulli, al-Sadek Bou Ghlimeh, reportedly said that the blast had taken place after a clash between local residents and gunmen.
Libya's pro-government forces launched an offensive in May to take back Sirte, a coastal town 450 kilometers (280 miles) east of Tripoli, which was seized by IS in June last year. It is the hometown of slain dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
IS has faced setbacks in Syria and Iraq, with local forces and the US-led coalition winning back territory.
Libya's interim Government of National Accord (GNA) said its "intelligence network is in full swing in preparation for the decisive battle" against IS fighters in the city, after "repelling multiple counter-attacks." They added that jihadists had barricaded themselves in residential buildings and used snipers and explosive devices against the pro-GNA forces.
Meanwhile, a US general said on Tuesday he did not know if the US had a particular "grand strategy" in Libya. The US has a limited presence in the country, with an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 IS fighters operating there.
The Obama administration has preferred to allow forces loyal to the GNA to lead the fight against the IS group.
"I am not aware of any overall grand strategy at this point," Lieutenant General Thomas Waldhauser - who has been nominated to lead the US military's Africa Command - told lawmakers, adding that the current unspecified number of US troops in the country was sufficient for the time being.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told reporters the anti-IS fight had "made progress."
"We're watching the situation in Libya very closely. We understand the potential threat that it poses in Libya and elsewhere," Cook said.
jbh/bk (dpa, AFP)