Fighting rages in Gaddafi's hometown amid mass exodus
Libyan rebels and fighters loyal to fugitive leader Moamer Gaddafi were Saturday engaged in street fighting in the centre of his hometown Sirte amid a growing exodus by the town's residents, dpa reported.
"Large numbers of inhabitants are leaving the eastern part of Sirte fleeing from fighting," the pro-rebel Free Libya TV station quoted Mohamed al-Ramash, a member of Sirte's local council as saying.
Pro-Gaddafi fighters, wearing plain clothes, were intimidating civilians, he added.
The rebels' Transitional National Council estimates that around 5,000 Gaddafi loyalists are still in the coastal town.
The rebels claimed on Saturday they had made advances in Sirte, saying that they had seized the headquarters of a brigade led by Gaddafi's son, Al-Saadi, according to broadcaster Al Jazeera. Al Saadi crossed into Niger weeks ago.
The rebel forces were finding it hard to tighten their control on Sirte, located on the Mediterranean coast, due to stiff resistance from Gaddafi loyalists, who are holed up on the rooftops of buildings in the town, according to the TV report.
Sirte is one of the last two pro-Gaddafi strongholds, which the rebels have struggled for more than two weeks to seize.
According to Al Jazeera, pro-Gaddafi snipers were firing on rebels and civilians trying to leave the troubled town.
A team from the Red Cross entered Sirte on Saturday from its western side and reported "very bad" conditions facing residents caught in the cross-fire, reported the Doha-based television station.
Inhabitants in the town were suffering a shortage in food, water and electricity supplies, it added.
"The Red Cross is trying to send medical supplies to the town after negotiations with the two sides of the conflict," Suad Masoudi, the spokesman for the organization in the Libyan capital Tripoli, said Saturday.
He added that around 10,000 people had already fled Sirte.
Meanwhile, rebels denied Saturday reports that Moussa Ibrahim, Gaddafi's spokesman, had been arrested.
A pro-rebel television station had reported Thursday that Ibrahim, disguised as a woman, was captured near Sirte.
A statement from the rebel council said only some of Ibrahim's family members were captured, and a search for him was still under way, according to broadcaster Al Arabiya.
Ibrahim reportedly fled the capital Tripoli when rebel forces fighting Gaddafi troops overran the city in late August.
He has been sending messages to loyalists through a pro-Gaddafi broadcaster to keep fighting the "traitors."
The conflict in Libya began in February after anti-government protests sparked a government crackdown. NATO, with a UN-mandate, began enforcing a no-fly zone over the country in March.