Libyan rebels said Sunday they were preparing for a major offensive against loyalists of the fugitive leader Moamer Gaddafi who have been for weeks putting up stiff resistance in the port town of Sirte, dpa reported.
"We will carry out the attack after making sure that most families have left the town," Hussein al-Teer, a rebel commander on the outskirts of Sirte, said on Sunday.
"This may take several days to happen in order to give inhabitants more time to leave before the battle begins," he was quoted by the pro-rebel Free Libya TV as adding.
Fighting was raging Sunday between rebel forces and pro-Gaddafi fighters in Sirte on the Mediterranean coast, according to broadcaster Al Jazeera.
The Gaddafi loyalists shelled the city's port, while rebels claimed they controlled over 80 per cent of the town, the Doha-based television station reported.
The rebels have been trying for more than two weeks to wrest control over Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown, with an estimated population of 70,000. The town is one of the last two strongholds of Gaddafi.
"The humanitarian situation in Sirte is very difficult," Hesham al-Khudari, the deputy chairman of the Red Cross in Libya, told Al Jazeera on Sunday.
He added that the town's residents, caught in the crossfire, were suffering a shortage of food and medical supplies.
The Red Cross said Sunday it failed to deliver relief supplies to people who are still inside Sirte due to fierce fighting between the rebels and the Gaddafi insurgents.
Meanwhile, the chief of the Libyan rebels' military council in the capital Tripoli, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, in an interview with dpa denied reports about rifts among the rebels after they ousted long-standing ruler Moamer Gaddafi.
"There are no differences among the revolutionaries and there are no signs of such differences," Belhaj told dpa by telephone.
The head of the rebels' Transitional National Council (TNC), Mustafa Abdel Jalil, had reportedly failed to convince 30 senior rebels in Tripoli to operate under Belhaj's command.
"The whole matter is that some different views were made, which is normal, given the freedom prevalent now in Libya," said Belhaj, a leading Islamist in the North African country.
Belhaj spent six years in Libyan jails where he said he was maltreated and tortured.
He told dpa that his "history of struggle" against the Gaddafi regime qualified him to be chief commander in Tripoli.
On Sunday, a rebel official said that the rebels had seized chemical weapons in Libya's southern town of Sabha.
"Nine tonnes of artillery shells containing mustard gas were found inside a warehouse in the unpopulated area of Al Shaata in Sabha," Hassan al-Saghir, a member of the TNC, told the Arabic US-based broadcaster Radio Sawa.
He added that the weapons had been brought into Libya by the Gaddafi regime from an Asian country, which he did not name.
"Contacts have been made with some international sides and organizations to dispose of these weapons in a safe way according to world standards," he added.
Western countries, including the United States, have recently voiced worries over the proliferation of conventional and non-conventional weapons in Libya after the Gaddafi regime was ousted in late August.