Warplanes carry out strikes on Libya’s Derna

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In this still image taken from video provided by the Egyptian military, an Egyptian fighter jet takes off from an undisclosed location in Egypt to strike militant hideouts in the Libyan city of Darna, May 26, 2017.

BENGHAZI, Libya, May 29, (RTRS): Warplanes launched three air strikes on the eastern Libyan city of Derna on Monday, a witness said, an apparent continuation of Egyptian raids on the city that began last week after militants ambushed a bus and killed Egyptian Christians.

There was no immediate confirmation of Monday’s strikes from officials in Libya or neighbouring Egypt, nor any claim of responsibility for the raid on the city at the eastern end of Libya’s Mediterranean coast.

However, Egypt has previously acknowledged conducting air strikes on targets in Libya since Friday and said it would launch further raids if necessary. A powerful Libyan force in the east of the country says it has coordinated air raids with Cairo.

The witness said one attack hit the western entrance to Derna and the other two hit Dahr al-Hamar, an area in the south of the city. Egyptian jets attacked Derna on Friday, just hours after masked militants boarded vehicles en route to a monastery in the southern Egyptian province of Minya and opened fire at close range, killing 29 and wounding 24. Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack in Egypt, the latest targetting Christian minority there.

Two church bombings also claimed by Islamic State killed more than 45 people last month. According to Yasser Risk, chairman of state newspaper Akhbar Elyoum and former war correspondent with close ties to Egypt’s presidency, 15 targets were hit on the first day of strikes, including in Derna and Jafra, in central Libya, where what he called “terrorism centres” were located.

He said the targets included leadership headquarters as well as training camps and weapons storage facilities and 60 fighter jets were used for the earlier raids. Egypt struck Derna again on Saturday. Egypt has carried out a air strikes on its neighbour occasionally since Libya descended into factional fighting in the years following the 2011 civil war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi. Islamist militant groups, including Islamic State, have gained ground in the chaos, and Derna, a city of around 150,000 that straddles the coastal highway linking Libya to Egypt, has frequently served as one of their main bases.

Egypt has been backing eastern commander Khalifa Haftar, whose Libyan National Army has been fighting Islamist militant groups and other fighters in Benghazi and Derna for more than two years. Libyan National Army spokesman Col Ahmad Messmari told reporters in Benghazi late on Sunday that Haftar’s forces were coordinating with Egypt’s military in air strikes and the weekend raids targeted ammunition stores and operations camps.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el- Sisi said on Friday the air raids targeted militants responsible for plotting the attack, and that Egypt would not hesitate to carry out additional strikes inside and outside the country. Egypt’s Interior Minister on Monday ordered the transfer of Minya’s security chief after militants shot dead 29 Christians in the southern province, the first disciplinary action taken in response to the incident.

Police Major General Faisal Doweidar will be transferred from his position as Minya security chief to a new post as deputy chief of security at the ministry, effective Wednesday, three security sources said. Many Christians feel the state either does not take their plight seriously enough or cannot protect them against determined fanatics. At a service to mourn the dead on Sunday, Salama, the uncle of one of the victims, said: “This is the result of only one thing: negligence, negligence from the government for not punishing these people.” The government is fighting insurgents affiliated with Islamic State who have killed hundreds of police and soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula, while also carrying out attacks elsewhere in the country.

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