BENGHAZI, May 16 (Xinhua) -- Heavy fighting broke out on Friday between a militia group and some Islamist militants in Libya's second largest city Benghazi, killing at least 24 people and injuring more than 140, medical sources said.
The city's Almarj Hospital and Abyar Hospital have each received four dead bodies, while Galaa Hospital received seven and Benghazi Medical Center nine. The number of injuries has so far reached 146.
Witnesses said that a militant group led by retired Major General Khalifa Haftar launched an attack at dawn against Benghazi 's Islamist armed groups "in order to purge the city from terrorists."
Haftar's spokesman said that his "national army" is in the process of purging Benghazi by diminishing various terrorist groups. They have shelled many Islamist militant bases, including Ansar Al-Sharia's and February 17 Brigade's compound. Local media said light and heavy arms were used during the clashes, causing heavy casualties.
The crossfire between the two sides now centers on Sidi Faraj and Hawari region in the south of the city as fighting still continues. Sporadic explosions can still be heard in the evening.
Later in the day Libya's Chief of Staff Abdessalem Jadallah al- Salihin said at a press conference that the assault was not authorized by the interim government, and that he "opposes any armed group that tries to control Benghazi by armed force." Salihin also denied any national army's involvement in the attack.
He added that Haftar's troops violated the chief of staff's orders by moving into Benghazi, which "severely hampered the security in the city."
Libya's acting Prime Minister Abdullah Thinni condemned the attack as a "coup" against the interim government. He also asked Haftar to keep self-control and resist "any temptation to intrude. "
Benghazi was the birthplace of the 2011 protests against the country's former leader Muammar Gaddafi. The city has witnessed a drastic escalation of violence and become a major extremist base in North Africa since the U. S. ambassador to Libya was killed in 2012.
Libya's interim government has failed to confiscate the weapons and ammos spread all over the country, leaving a major threat to the public security.