Libyan rebels say they are close to Gaddafi's hometown

Libyan rebels say they are close to Gaddafi's hometown

Libyan rebels said Tuesday they have advanced towards the city of Sirte in a bid to secure the frontline leading to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, dpa reported.

Abdul-Fattah Yunis, who leads the opposition fighters, said the rebels were closing in on Sirte, hometown of leader Moamer Gaddafi.

He said rebels aim to "liberate it from the security brigades, with Tripoli next in line," according to the opposition Libyan Youth Movement group.

Yunis stressed the need to secure the way leading to the eastern region.

"We must secure it completely. Our forces our now ready and our preparations are complete," he said.

"The freedom fighters in Tripoli have formed secret cells. The media blackout has affected them. However, they have launched spectacular secret operations," he said.

Amid the advance, one rebel was killed and three wounded Tuesday in the western city of Zintan in an attack by Gaddafi forces.

Government forces also shelled civilian homes in the city of Nalut with Grad rockets, the Hurra opposition group reported.

Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that government forces placed more than 150 antipersonnel landmines in at least one location in the Nafusa Mountains. But the rebels discovered and removed them.

It was the first confirmed use of landmines in the Nafusa Mountains, the group said.

"These antipersonnel landmines pose a huge threat to civilians," said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch. "More than 150 countries have banned landmines, but Libya continues to defy this global trend."

Meanwhile, NATO on Tuesday insisted that it takes every precaution to avoid civilian casualties during air bombings in Libya, amid allegations by Tripoli that the alliance is targeting civilians and has killed 700 people so far.

The alliance also denied a Libyan government claim that one of its Apache helicopters was shot down, but did say contact was lost with an unmanned drone that was being used for surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations.

Libyan security forces claimed they had overheard a phone conversation in which NATO officials said they planned to target the homes of all of Gaddafi's children, a government official who asked to be unnamed told the German Press Agency dpa.

"We accuse NATO of carrying out targeted assassinations and attacks against civilians in Libya," the official said.

The government charged that one NATO attack on Monday in the city of Surman killed 15 civilians - including relatives of former interior minister Khuwaylidi al-Hamidi, who is closely linked to Gaddafi.

But NATO military spokesman Mike Bracken told reporters at operation headquarters in Naples, Italy, that the building targeted was "a highly significant command and control node."

"NATO is aware of allegations that this strike caused casualties. That is something we cannot independently verify," he said.

NATO officials have in most cases said that such reports are impossible to confirm because the alliance does not have a presence on the ground. They have also separately accused Gaddafi's regime of using propaganda tactics.

On Sunday, however, the alliance admitted for the first time that civilians may have been killed during a bombing raid over Tripoli due to a "weapons system failure," which led to a barrage of criticism.

"Where NATO believes we have caused civilian casualties, we will say so," spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said in Brussels on Tuesday.

But she also argued that the Tripoli incident was "an exception."

"If you look at our track record, ... you can see we have taken utmost care to avoid civilian casualties, and will continue to do so," she said. "It is the Gaddafi regime who is deliberately and indiscriminately attacking civilians."

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