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Shelling in eastern Libya kills 8, including 7 children

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Random shelling of residential areas in the restive eastern Libyan city of Benghazi has killed eight people from one family, including seven children, officials said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack late Thursday. It came days after an operative from Libya’s Islamic State affiliate was killed in fighting in this city, where clashes have been raging for nearly a year.

Ashraf al-Saiti, a senior medical official at Benghazi’s al-Jala hospital, said the family’s home in al-Salam district came under intense shelling from the nearby al-Sabri neighborhood, a stronghold of Islamic extremists. The children killed were between five and 10 years old, he said.

Earlier this week, three children were killed and several civilians were wounded when a dozen mortar shells struck the neighborhood of Baloun in central Benghazi, officials said.

The shelling appear to be linked to Monday’s killing of 19-year-old Islamic State operative Ali al-Barghathi, also known as Farouk al-Barkawi, who returned from Syria where he had joined IS in 2013, said intelligence official Jibril Mustafa.

Pictures and statements eulogizing al-Barkawi have been posted on social networking sites by IS supporters.

The fighting in Benghazi has pitted army units and fighters loyal to the internationally-recognized government on one side, against Islamic extremists, including militants from an Islamic State affiliate, on the other. Hundreds have been killed and thousands displaced.

Nearly four years after the ouster of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, chaos in Libya has given the Islamic State opportunity to gain a foothold in Libya. The IS affiliate now controls at least two cities along Libya’s coastline.

Libya is split between an elected parliament and weak government, which were forced to relocate from the capital, Tripoli, to the far eastern cities of Tobruk and Bayda, and the rival government and parliament set up by Islamist-linked militias in Tripoli.

The U.N. envoy to Libya has been hosting a series of national unity talks aimed at ending the fighting and forming a new government.

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