Gaddafi loyalists continue to resist NTC forces in Sirte

Gaddafi loyalists continue to resist NTC forces in Sirte

Azerbaijan , Baku, Sept. 28 / Trend A. Isgandarov/

Intense sniper and artillery fire from forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi holed up in Sirte kept fighters with Libya's new rulers at bay in the deposed leader's hometown on Wednesday.

Sirte, one of the last two bastions of support for Gaddafi, is encircled by forces with the interim National Transitional Council (NTC) and under aerial attack from NATO, Reuters reported.

NTC fighters have been meeting stiff resistance from Gaddafi loyalists, who have managed to hang on to much of Sirte more than a month after the fall of the Libyan leader's regime.

Lack of coordination and divisions at the front have been hampering their attempts to capture Sirte and Bani Walid, which lies 180 km (110 miles) south of Tripoli.

A commander leading the attack on Sirte said on Tuesday he was in talks with elders inside the city about a truce, but the head of another anti-Gaddafi unit rejected negotiations.

There were clashes at a roundabout 2 km (1.5 miles) east of the center of Sirte, where anti-Gaddafi fighters were pinned down for a second day by sniper and artillery fire.

Forces with the new government brought in two tanks and trucks carrying infantry to try to break through.

Snipers, though, held up the advance, forcing the attackers to take cover behind metal shipping containers.

Medical workers at a hospital in Ras Lanuf, which lies 220 km (137 miles) east of Sirte, said they had received the bodies of six NTC fighters killed in fighting on the city's eastern front. Some 45 fighters were wounded, many from sniper fire.

While the fighting continues, humanitarian organizations have expressed alarm at the worsening situation in Sirte.

"Our main worry is the people being displaced because of the fighting," said Jafar Vishtawi, a delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), near Sirte.

Taking Sirte, 450 km east of Tripoli, would bring Libya's new rulers closer to gaining control of the whole country, something still eluding them more than a month after their fighters seized the capital.

Mass demonstrations demanding for the ouster of Qaddafi, who has been ruling the country for more than 40 years, started in Libya in mid-February and subsequently grew into armed confrontation between the government forces and the rebels.

On August 23, 2011, Gaddafi lost control of Tripoli, and effective control of Libya with the rebels' capture of the Bab al-Azizia compound.

NTC forces now control most of Libyan territory, including the capital Tripoli. They have been trying to take several cities controlled by pro-Gaddafi troops, including Bani Walid and Sirte.

Recently, anti-Gaddafi forces strengthened their attack on Bani Walid, supported by Nato air strikes. Officials say their forces are now within reach of the centre of the town.

Some members of Moammar Gaddafi's family have fled to Algeria. Several convoys of former Gaddafi loyalists are also said to have crossed over Libya's border with Niger recently.

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