TRIPOLI • Forces allied with Libya's unity government are battling to retake the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group's last redoubts in its stronghold of Sirte, facing fierce resistance including a series of suicide car bombings.
The pro-government forces entered Sirte last Wednesday and have been advancing more quickly than expected against ISIS, which seized control of the coastal city last year and turned it into its main base of operations in North Africa.
The loss of Sirte would be a major setback for ISIS, which has also been losing territory in Syria and Iraq where the terrorist group established its self-declared "caliphate" in 2014.
Militant forces - surrounded in a densely populated area of around five sq km in the city centre - have been putting up fierce resistance and yesterday carried out three suicide car bombings against pro-government fighters.
"Three explosions from cars driven by Islamic State suicide bombers targeted our forces in Sirte," Mr Reda Issa, a spokesman for the unity government's forces, said.
Two of the bombers hit gatherings of pro-government forces and another hit a field hospital, he said. At least one person was killed and four wounded in the blasts.
The attacks came a day after pro-government forces said they had recaptured the port in Sirte, the hometown of Libya's ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and residential areas in the city's east.
The forces are allied with Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA), which is backed by the international community as the country's legitimate authority.
The GNA, led by prime minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj, has been struggling for months to assert its authority in the face of rival administrations vying for power in the chaos of post-Gaddafi Libya.
The pro-GNA forces are mostly made up of militias from western cities, notably Misrata, and the guards of oil installations that ISIS has repeatedly tried to seize.
They have engaged in heavy street-to-street battles with the terrorists, deploying tanks, rocket launchers and artillery in the fight for the city.
The Misrata militia forces - who have an arsenal that includes MiG fighter jets and attack helicopters - have also carried out dozens of air raids against ISIS.