BENGHAZI, Libya — After three years in a packed refugee camp, Mariam Mohammed fled with her seven children along with some 3000 members of Libya's persecuted Tawergha community in their second forced displacement. Their camp was caught in a cross-fire between Islamist militias and pro-government forces in the war-torn eastern city of Benghazi.
"It's miserable, beyond anybody's imagination. Some of us had to jump in garbage trucks to escape. The horror makes you do anything," said the 45-year-old Mohammed. "There was no other option amid all destruction."
She spoke to The Associated Press over the phone from her new school-turned-refugee camp outside Benghazi in an area called Tekka.
This was the second time in three years that Mohammed and her fellow Tawergha have been forced to flee the violence of post-revolutionary Libya. In 2011, at the end of the eight-month civil war against Moammar Gadhafi, she and nearly 40,000 residents were forced to flee their western village_also called Tawergha. Rebel forces from the neighboring city of Misrata attacked her town believing the Tawergha had aided Gadhafi's forces. The rebels torched Tawergha homes, kidnapped and tortured the men and kept them in detention centers for years. The Tawergha are racially distinct group, with darker skin that most Libyans, making it even harder for them to navigate Libya's chaotic post-revolutionary environment.
After abandoning their home village, Mohammed and others lived for years in a refugee camp in Benghazi's Gar Younis neighborhood_which has become the site of fierce daily clashes. On Friday morning, Mohammed and her children, along with more than 500 other Tawergha families, finally fled under a hail of bullets, rockets and mortars.
Faraj Abdel-Kader, a representative of the abandoned camp, said that when the Tawergha returned later to pick up their belongings, they found the camp had been looted and torched.
"It was burnt to ashes after it was looted and all belongings were stolen," he said. "The families were dispersed. Some found a shelter while others still sleep under trees."
A total of 17,000 Tawergha people live in Benghazi, according to lawmaker Gaballah Mohammed Gaballah, who added, "they are the most vulnerable in middle of a war that no one can stop...We need international help."
Since the ouster of Gadhafi, the oil-rich north African country has faced mounting challenges rooted in the mushrooming of independent militias in the absence of a strong army and police force.
In Tripoli, the capital, Tawergha communities were also displaced this summer when Islamist-allied militias, led by powerful commanders from Misrata, swept through the capital and set up their own government.
The displacement comes as Libyans commemorate the three-year anniversary of the capture and killing of Gadhafi at the end of Libya's eight-month civil war in 2011. It comes at a time when Libya is witnessing its worst spasm of destabilizing violence.
Libya has two rival governments. One, based in Tripoli, was set up by Islamist-allied militias from Misrata who lead an umbrella group called Libya Dawn.
On the other side, the parliament elected in June — a body dominated by anti-Islamist lawmakers — was forced to flee to the remote coastal city of Tobruk, near the Egyptian border and more than 900 miles (1,500 kilometers) from Tripoli. It has set up an internationally recognized government there with Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni at the head, backed by a few militias of its own, as well as the weak and shattered military.
On Monday, Libya's Supreme Court set Nov. 5 to issue its ruling on the legitimacy of the Tobruk-based parliament, possibly helping put an end to the paralyzing stand-off.
In Benghazi, the fighting has left at least 65 dead since it started on Oct. 15.
Meloud al-Zewi, spokesman of Libya's special forces, said that his forces are advancing and have taken control of an air force barracks on the outskirts of Benghazi. He voiced concern over suicide bombers and car bombs which he said are common Islamist tactics.
Islamist militias used suicide bombers and car bombs to repel the army operation backed by armed residents and heavy airstrikes. The assault left much of the city deserted.
Mohammed Hegazi, an army spokesman, said the increasing use of suicide bombers by Islamist militias reflects "how bankrupt" the militias are in the face of the army. "I expect a rise in suicide attacks because they have no other option but to use their men to blow themselves up," he said.
Michael reported from Cairo, Egypt.
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