Libyan fighters claim capture of Bani Walid

NTC military commanders say 95 per cent of Gaddafi stronghold has fallen, despite some pockets of resistance.

     Al Jazeera's Tony Birtley, reporting from Bani Walid, says 'this is an almost complete liberation of the town'

    Fighters belonging to Libya's ruling National Transitional Council say they have captured nearly all of Bani Walid, one of two last remaining strongholds of the country's deposed leader, Muammar Gaddafi.

    NTC military commanders said on Monday that they were encountering pockets of resistance in the town, located about 170km southeast of Tripoli. But they said they had claimed about 95 per cent of it.

    "We are very much in the centre of Bani Walid. They [Libyan fighters] came through here just over an hour ago and they are saying this is an almost complete liberation of the town," Al Jazeera's Tony Birtley reported from inside Bani Walid.

    "[There are] some pockets of resistance by pro-Gaddafi forces but by-and-large 95 per cent of the town is under [NTC] control."

    He said the city fell to NTC forces after three days of heavy fighting involving a lot of heavy weapons and tanks.

    "The gunfire of celebration is ringing out and they are going completely crazy here because they know this is sending a very clear message to those pro-Gaddafi elements who are still holding out in Sirte. Basically, there is nowhere left to go," he said.

    Calm in Tripoli

    Al Jazeera's James Bays, reporting from Tripoli, said the mood was calmer in the Libyan capital. "There are some celebrations here but somewhat of a restrained mood from the NTC," he said.

    "They are still stressing the point that there are pockets of resistance, and although fighters are in the city centre, it will still be a few hours until they have 100 per cent control of the town.

    "Sirte now remains the last place for the NTC to control ... and a last place where key Gaddafi loyalists are taking a last stand."

    In Sirte, Gaddafi's birthplace and his final coastal stronghold, fighting had eased on Sunday.

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    The city on the Mediterranean coast, has been a site of fierce clashes between NTC forces and those loyal to deposed leader Gaddafi for more than a month. Sunday saw a lull with only intermittent shelling and rocket-fire, AFP correspondents said.

    "We are shelling with tanks and anti-aircraft weapons and then we will send our troops onto the streets," said Salem Ahmed, a tank commander from the eastern city of Benghazi.

    Ahmed said the advance was being held up by pro-Gaddafi snipers: "A few snipers can stop an army.

    "They are very professional. They shoot in the heart, the head, the chest."

    The focus of the NTC operations are two seaside residential neighbourhoods, the Dollar and Number Two, where Gaddafi loyalists are holed up.

    One NTC fighter told AFP there had been an exodus of civilians from the two areas on Sunday and that the besieging troops wanted to give others the chance to leave.

    Sunday's lull contrasted sharply with the previous day when Gaddafi loyalists mounted a fierce counter-attack in Sirte, forcing back the NTC fighters under a barrage of rockets and shelling.

    Khamis death 'unconfirmed'

    In another development, a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Reuters news agency that the US could not yet independently confirm reports that Gaddafi's son, Khamis, had died in fighting southeast of Tripoli on August 29.

    On Monday, a television station based in Syria that supports Gaddafi confirmed Khamis' death, along with that of his cousin Mohammed Abdullah al-Senousi, Gaddafi's intelligence chief's son.

    It said they were killed during a battle with NTC forces in the city of Tarhouna, 90km southeast of Tripoli.

    The Arrai TV station said Khamis and Senousi died "while confronting the enemies of their homeland" on August 29.

    The US official said similar information was being received in Washington from "reliable sources".

    NTC military officials had said in August that Khamis was killed in Tarhouna and buried in the city of Bani Walid, but there was no confirmation at the time from Gaddafi loyalists.

    Khamis had been reported dead twice during the uprising, only to reappear.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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