Libya’s Benghazi, cradle of anti-Gaddafi revolt, torn by chaos that followed

A view shows debris in a room at a children’s hospital, which was damaged in unknown shelling in Benghazi, Libya April 29, 2015. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori

(Reuters) – When Libyan government forces and Islamist militants battled with artillery guns right in his district, Khalil al-Barassi knew it was time to pack up. He moved his family into an abandoned schoolhouse, where they live on aid from the Red Crescent, while the city around them falls to pieces.

After a year of war, Libya’s second-largest city Benghazi is divided into areas controlled by forces loyal to one of two rival Libyan governments, and areas held by Islamist fighters led by the group Washington blames for the 2012 attack that killed its ambassador.

The city was the birthplace of the revolt that toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, with residents who pride themselves on a willingness to rise up and defend themselves from exploitation.

But with rockets crashing daily into its boulevards, neighborhoods reduced to rubble and around a tenth of its 1 million people made homeless, Benghazi has now become one of the worst examples of the chaos that followed Gaddafi’s downfall.

As elsewhere in Libya, armed groups have lined up behind the two rival governments. In Benghazi, one government backs a Gaddafi-era army general and the other backs the Islamists.

Both pay fighters out of central revenues under a system set up after Gaddafi’s downfall, which saw scores of armed groups placed on the public payroll, effectively subsidizing civil war from the country’s oil exports.

Some of Benghazi’s 90,000 displaced people have moved in with relatives living in safer areas. Others, like Barassi with his wife and four children, have moved into schools, empty now that the fighting has prevented them from opening…

A general view of homes damaged after clashes between members of the Libyan pro-government forces, backed by the locals, and Shura Council of Libyan Revolutionaries, an alliance of former anti-Gaddafi rebels who have joined forces with Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia, in Benghazi April 1, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

A general view of homes damaged after clashes between members of the Libyan pro-government forces, backed by the locals, and Shura Council of Libyan Revolutionaries, an alliance of former anti-Gaddafi rebels who have joined forces with Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia, in Benghazi April 1, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

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