A Libyan navy ship was hit and 13 people killed during heavy fighting with aircraft and tanks on Monday between the army and Islamist militants near the port of Benghazi, residents of the Mediterranean city said.
The battle was part of a wider conflict in the North African state where former rebels who helped oust dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 are fighting for power and a share of Libya’s large oil revenues.
Army special forces, backed by troops of an ex-general, launched an offensive in the Benghazi area two weeks ago against Islamist militants blamed by Washington for a 2012 assault on the former U.S. consulate which killed the American ambassador.
The Red Crescent evacuated 53 foreign workers and 14 sick people trapped inside a hospital next to the port, medics said, while the army moved more tanks and artillery into the city.
A Reuters reporter could see smoke rising from the port, an important conduit for food, wheat and fuel supplies to eastern Libya. A security source said the unidentified navy ship was sinking but this could not immediately be confirmed.
Warplanes could be heard firing into the port area.
Dozens of residents were leaving Benghazi, heeding a call by the army to evacuate the port area and main commercial district where military officials said Islamists were holed up.
At least 243 people have been killed, 13 of them on Monday, since the army started the offensive, medics said.
The army took a Reuters multi-media team to its Benghazi headquarters after wresting it back last week from Islamists. Many buildings in the vast complex were destroyed or burned out.