BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Around 37 people have been killed in clashes between Islamic State fighters and an Islamist group that is challenging the grip of the ultra-hardliners on the city of Sirte in central Libya, residents said.
The fighting in the hometown of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi typifies the chaos in the oil producer, where two governments, former rebel and Islamist groups battle for control, and is driving families to flee to seek relative safety.
Earlier this week, a Salafist Muslim group and armed residents attacked Islamic State fighters in Sirte, located about 500 km east of the capital Tripoli, accusing them of killing a prominent preacher in Sirte.
Islamic State fighters took over the city in February, expanding their presence in the North African country by exploiting a security vacuum like they did in Iraq and Syria.
Fighting raged until early on Friday before dying down when Islamic State took back a district which the Salafists and armed residents had tried to seize, residents said.
By noon the city was quiet, giving residents the chance to remove bodies littered in the streets, among them women and children. Around 37 people have been killed in the past two days, residents said.
“Families are leaving Sirte,” said a resident, asking, like others, not to be named. He said Islamic State fighters were searching for people with weapons.
A similar battle occurred in the eastern city of Derna in June when Islamic State was expelled by rival Islamist fighters who teamed up with locals angered by the arrival of foreign militants and clerics.
Islamic State launched an offensive to retake Derna this week.
Libya has two governments fighting each other for power while Islamic State and other armed groups carve out their own fiefdoms.
The United Nations brought the main warring factions together in Geneva this week but the diplomacy has been overtaken by fighting between groups not present at the negotiating table.