Four Children Killed in Rocket Attack in Libya's Benghazi City

Benghazi buildings
Damaged buildings are pictured 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 Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia, in Benghazi, Libya April 1, 2015. Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Four children were killed in rocket attack on an area of the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi where Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for a mortar attack, officials said on Wednesday.

The children were killed on Tuesday when a rocket hit their neighborhood, near an area where army forces and Islamist brigades have been fighting, Libya's internationally recognized government said in a statement.

"Four innocent children were killed by an extremist terrorist group in one of the ugliest crimes," the government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni said in a statement.

Militants claiming loyalty to Islamic State said on Twitter they had fired mortar rockets into the district where the children were killed. They posted pictures purportedly showing their fighters loading and firing mortars, without mentioning the children.

Benghazi has been a battlefield for a year between army forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, Thinni's general, and Islamist groups, dividing Libya's second-largest city.

The army flew air strikes against the Islamist groups in the port area on Wednesday, a military source said. There was no immediate word on casualties.

The battle is part of wider conflict between former rebels groups who helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but have now fallen out along tribal, regional and political lines.

Islamic State militants have exploited the security vacuum as two governments fight each other, with neither side dominating the other. The militants have killed dozens of foreign Christians and attacked oil fields and a luxury hotel in Tripoli.

Thinni was forced to flee the capital, Tripoli, in August when a rival group seized it and set up a rival administration backing the Benghazi-based Islamist groups.

Army forces have regained some areas in Benghazi lost last year, but the port area and several districts are still dominated by Majlis al-Shura, the umbrella of Islamist brigades.

Islamic State militants posted in a separate Twitter message pictures purportedly showing its fighters digging tunnels to gain access to the central port area.