21 Libya soldiers die in fighting with Islamists: medic

A medical official was quoted by the government’s media arm as saying 21 loyalists had been killed since Saturday

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Fighting raged between government forces and Islamists in eastern Libya on Tuesday, with 21 soldiers killed since the clashes broke out at the weekend, a medical official said.

The continued fighting came a day after U.N. envoy Bernardino Leon said he hoped the rival parliaments in the largely lawless North African country would endorse his proposals for a unity government later this week.

Fighting began Saturday, when forces of the internationally recognized government launched an offensive against the town of Ain Mara, held by the Mujahedeen Council of Derna.

The campaign was aimed at advancing on the city of Derna, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) to its east, which is a bastion of Islamist militias.

A medical official was quoted by the government’s media arm as saying 21 loyalists had been killed since Saturday, but gave no details on any casualties among the Islamists.

The Mujahedeen Council is backed by Fajr Libya, a coalition of militias that seized Tripoli last summer and set up a parallel government there.

It has recently claimed to have driven Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group jihadists out of much of Derna, and loyalist forces have been seeking to take advantage of that fighting to gain ground themselves.

The United Nations has been brokering talks for months between the Tripoli administration and the internationally recognized government, which is headquartered in the east.

On Monday, U.N. envoy Leon said there were only two or three remaining stumbling blocks and that he hoped those could be addressed when peace talks resume Thursday in Morocco.

Libya was plunged into chaos after the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime in 2011 and not only has two rival governments but also numerous militias fighting for their own territorial and financial interests.

A surge of jihadist violence across the region, including the killing of 38 people, most of them British tourists, at a Tunisian beach resort on Friday, has prompted mounting international pressure for a deal.

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