Libyan National Army general commander announced regaining control over the western Shehha area in Derna on Saturday, saying troops conducted combing sweeps to clear the zone from mines and improvised explosive devices.
LNA officers said the forces had cornered extremists to an area of only one square kilometer.
“The army has come close to ending the myth of strength of extremists who have dominated the city (Derna) by force over the last recent years,” a senior military official told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“LNA Commander-in-Chief Marshal Khalifa Hafter is preparing to declare Derna a liberated city before Eid al-Fitr,” he added.
Shehha area, one of Derna’s strategic zones and the last of three terror-group strongholds in the city, is now fully under LNA control.
Another LNA officer denied reports about Egyptian forces participating alongside LNA troops in operations seeking to liberate Derna.
“There is high-level coordination and cooperation between the Egyptian authorities and the LNA, but there is no truth to rumors about the presence of Egyptian troops,” the officer added.
Rumors on Arab or foreign party troopers operating in Derna are being spread by Muslim Brotherhood radicals and extremists to distort any achievement fulfilled by LNA forces, and cause confusion around the soon-to-be announced victory, added the officer speaking under the condition of anonymity.
In the meantime, Red Crescent Movement medical staffers in Derna allocated a number of emergency telephone numbers to help civilians wishing to evacuate the city as clashes with armed radicals and LNA forces intensify.
“The extremists have dug a network of tunnels in the nearby mountains,” local LNA health minister Reda al-Awakli told Asharq Al-Awsat citing fears on extremists resorting to tunnels in order to flee the army’s campaign in preparation for future deadly terrorist attacks.
Awakli said terrorists have stored arms and equipment enough for destroying the whole city inside a vast-reaching tunnel network.
On the other hand, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed deep concern about the increasing risks threatening Derna’s population, as fighting intensified over recent days.