Reuters International

Fighters from Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government take position as smoke rises during a battle with Islamic State militants in Sirte, Libya September 22, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

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SIRTE, Libya (Reuters) - Libyan forces said they foiled three attempted car bombings in renewed heavy fighting against Islamic State holdouts in the group's former stronghold of Sirte on Thursday.

Forces led by brigades from the western city of Misrata and supported since Aug. 1 by U.S. air strikes have surrounded militants in a gradually shrinking residential area in central Sirte after a four-month campaign.

At least eight of the Misrata-led forces' fighters were killed on Thursday, according to field hospital figures. The forces said they had recovered the bodies of 10 Islamic State militants.

Tanks positioned around the area still occupied by Islamic State launched a continuous barrage of fire, backed up by mortars and anti-aircraft guns, a Reuters witness said.

After advancing rapidly on Sirte in May the Misrata-led forces have suffered high numbers of casualties from sniper fire, suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices. More than 500 have been killed and more than 2,000 wounded.

Islamic State expanded into Libya in 2014, taking advantage of the political chaos and security vacuum that developed after Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in an uprising five years ago.

The jihadist group took full control of Sirte last year, setting up an important base for foreign fighters and expanding its control along about 250 km (140 miles) of Libya's Mediterranean coastline.

(Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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