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CAIRO (AP) — Two suicide car bombings near an eastern airport in Libya killed seven troops and wounded 12 people Thursday, a spokesman for a renegade general said, as fierce clashes erupted nearby between the general's forces and the extremist militias trying to take over the airfield.
Col. Mohammed Hegazi told The Associated Press that the bombers targeted checkpoints 1 kilometer (a half mile) away from the Benina airport in Benghazi.
The airport is the only site still under the control of renegade Gen. Khalifa Hifter after he was defeated by a coalition of Islamist militias, including the extremist group Ansar al-Shariah. That group is blamed for the deadly Sept. 12, 2012, assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Hegazi said that the Hifter-allied Libyan air force later launched airstrikes to prevent the Islamist militias from taking over the airport.
A spokesman of the Feb. 17 brigade, part of the Islamist coalition, told Libyan television station al-Nabaa that nearly 10 of its fighters were wounded in clashes near the airport. Mohammed Eissa also said the airstrikes had no effect on their advance as clashes continued.
Benghazi fell under the control of the Islamist militias months ago after they repelled attacks by Hifter.
Libya is witnessing its worst spasm of violence since its 2011 civil war.
A second, parallel campaign by Islamist-allied militias swept through the capital, Tripoli, forcing rival militias, who declared their alliance with Hifter, to withdraw. The militias later revived an old parliament and formed a "salvation government" to compete with Libya's elected parliament and government, which is now convening in the eastern city of Tobruk, close to the Egyptian border.
In addition to Benghazi, Hifter and Islamist extremist militias battled along a highway linking the eastern city of Darna, known as a stronghold of Islamists, along with another city called al-Qoubba on Wednesday. The clashes near al-Qoubba killed five people, mostly Hifter's troops, a security official said.
Meanwhile in the southern city of Sabha, tribal clashes that saw mortars used killed 15 people, a security official said. The city has witnessed several rounds of deadly fighting among tribes, including ethnic Tabu minority.
The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.
Amid the fighting, the United Nations Envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon, has been shuttling between warring groups in peace talks and trying to get them to agree to a cease-fire. After this week's first round of talks between rival lawmakers, militias controlling Tripoli and influential religious body rejected the talks.