TRIPOLI: Forces loyal to a rogue Libyan general attacked the country's parliament Sunday, forcing lawmakers to flee an assault his spokesman said targeted Islamists there who protect the extremist militias now plaguing the nation.
The attack was met with resistance from other troops, Mohammed al-Hegazi, a spokesman for Gen. Khalifa Hifter, told Libya's al-Ahrar television station.
Gunfire near parliament could be heard for kilometers (miles) around.
A security official said the attackers also shelled a nearby military base controlled by an Islamist militia. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief journalists.
Hifter is carrying out an offensive against Islamist militias in Benghazi, the country's second-largest city in the east. He says the central government and parliament have no mandate and vowed to press on with his operation after authorities called it a coup.
Al-Hegazi called the parliament the "heart of the crisis" in Libya.
"This parliament is what supports these extremist Islamist entities," al-Hegazi told the station. "The aim was to arrest these Islamist bodies who wear the cloak of politics."
Lawmakers say security officials evacuated them from the building out of fears it would be stormed.
Libya's parliament is divided between Islamist and non-Islamist forces who have bickered over appointing a new government and holding new elections. Recently, Islamists forces backed the naming of a new prime minister, amid walkouts from the non-Islamist groups. The new interim prime minister has not yet named a Cabinet.
An Associated Press journalist saw militias armed with machine-gun mounted vehicles gather near the parliament. The security official told the AP that lawmakers received warnings ahead of the attack that the building would be assaulted. Al-Ahrar reported the same.
The bases of the al-Qaaqaa and Sawaaq militias are located near the parliament. They both operate under the government's mandate but back non-Islamist political forces.
The fighting that broke out in Benghazi on Friday killed 70 people, Libya's Health Ministry said Sunday.
Benghazi, the birthplace of the 2011 uprising that toppled Libya's late dictator Moammar Gadhafi, was quiet Sunday, though its airport remained closed for a second day.
Libya's weak central government describes the offensive by forces loyal to Hifter, which includes air support, as tantamount to a coup. The violence there and in the capital, Tripoli, shows how precarious government control remains three years after the 2011 civil war that toppled Gadhafi.
Libya's military banned flights Saturday to Benghazi and said in a statement that it would target any military aircraft flying over the city.