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BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - An air strike on a prison has killed five people in a Libyan desert town where armed factions have been fighting along a strategic route from the southern border region to the capital Tripoli, a medical source said on Tuesday.

No one claimed responsibility for the strike in Sabha, but forces aligned with a U.N.-backed government in Tripoli control a desert air base there that previously came under air attack from rivals allied with eastern commander Khalifa Haftar.

Two guards and three prisoners were killed in the strike on the prison in Sabha and four other people were wounded early on Tuesday, the medical source said.

The North African OPEC state slipped into turmoil after the 2011 civil war that ended Muammar Gaddafi's rule. It has been plagued since by fighting between rival political leaders backed by their military factions, each claiming legitimacy.

The southern front line has focused on control around the Tamanhent air base 30 km (19 miles) northeast of Sabha. The fighting risks escalating into the first major confrontation between forces tied to the Government of National Accord (GNA) and Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA).

Haftar is aligned with a former eastern parliament and government that have rejected the GNA since it arrived in the capital Tripoli, in the far west of the country, more than a year ago as part of U.N. efforts to stabilise Libya.

His forces have been extending their control along Libya's central Mediterranean coast and southwards into the desert regions of Jufra and Sabha. He says they also intend to take over Tripoli though some analysts doubt his military strength.

Tamanhent is controlled by a force from Misrata, a militarily powerful western city that has backed the GNA.

Since 2014, loose military alliances based in the east and west of Libya have been engaged in intermittent conflict and the Western-backed GNA has struggled to extend its control even in Tripoli, where rival militia factions operate.

(Reporting by Ayman Al-Warfalli in Benghazi and Ahmed Elumami in Tripoli; writing by Patrick Markey; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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