Libyan fighters 'seal off' Gaddafi hometown

NTC reports heavy street fighting in Sirte as civilians continued to flee deteriorating conditions in the city.

    Libyan fighters say they have completely surrounded Muammar Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte and are engaged in heavy clashes with his loyalists in the city's streets.

    Last week, the National Transition Council's defence ministry said that Sirte's port, airport and military base were all under the control of its forces.

    On Saturday, NTC forces in Sirte said they have captured the headquarters of the Saadi Gaddafi brigades, an army unit led by Gaddafi's third son.

    Musatafa al-Rubaie, an NTC commander, told the Associated Press news agency that even though his fighters have surrounded Sirte from all sides, a path out has been left for civilians who still want to leave the coastal city.

    After weeks of fighting Gaddafi's loyalists inside Sirte, the fighters now hold positions about 5km from the city centre, he said.

    Al-Rubaie said fighters from the east seized control of Sirte's first residential district and a hotel where pro-Gaddafi snipers were based.

    "There is heavy fighting going on in the streets of Sirte right now," he said.

    "The enemy is besieged from the south, east and west but it's still in possession of highly sophisticated weapons and a large amount of ammunition."

    Al-Rubaie said Gaddafi forces were also in control of strategic positions inside the city, including high-rise buildings where snipers are positioned, making the NTC forces' advance slow and hard.

    "The plan is that the eastern and western forces will meet in the middle of Sirte," al-Rubaie said. "When we reach this point, we will celebrate the liberation of Sirte."

    'Mission largely complete'

    Meanwhile, fighters on the western approaches to the city fired rockets and tank fire at loyalists' positions, while NATO aircraft were heard circling overhead.

    The top US commander for Africa said on Saturday that the military mission in Libya is largely complete and NATO's involvement could begin to wrap up as soon as next week when allied leaders meet in Brussels.

    Army Genenral Carter Ham, head of US Africa Command, told The Associated Press that NATO ministers will review the situation and could decide to end the mission.

    He said that US intelligence and surveillance assets, such as drones, will likely stay in the region for some time once the NATO mission ends, particularly to help the Libyan government with key issues such as border security and non-proliferation of weapons.

    But he said air strikes would likely end, unless specifically requested by the Libyan transitional government. 

    On Saturday, residents continued to leave Sirte. A doctor at a frontline hospital said a family of four from Sirte was killed while driving out from the Gaddafi holdout towards the NTC positions. It was unclear who killed them.

    Dr. Nuri Naari said the bodies of two children and their parents were brought to his makeshift hospital early Saturday morning, adding they had died from machine-gun fire.

    Hundreds of cars with Sirte residents formed long lines at NTC checkpoints leading out of the city as explosions echoed in the distance. 

    Many of those fleeing Sirte said conditions in the city continues to deteriorate, with food in short supply, and no water or electricity.

    "We couldn't leave our homes because of the shelling, we had to leave the city," Ahmed Hussein said, as his wife, mother-in-law and two children watched the fighters search their car.

    Cars, buses and trucks loaded with families and heaped with household goods lined up at the first checkpoint about 1km from the front-lines.

    Volunteers gave the families food and water while fighters checked documents and cars.

    A small contingent of Doctors Without Borders attempted to enter Sirte on Saturday to deliver medical supplies, but turned back because of heavy shelling and no guarantees that the Gaddafi loyalist would hold their fire.

    Gaddafi's spokesman

    Moussa Ibrahim, the fugitive spokesman for Muammar Gaddafi, telephoned a Syria-based television channel on Saturday to deny reports that he himself had been captured this week.

    Ibrahim told the Reuters news agency on Monday he was regularly moving in and out of Gaddafi's hometown, Sirte, which is encircled by anti-Gaddafi forces.

    Media reports after that said Ibrahim, disguised as a woman, had been captured by forces loyal to the ruling National Transitional Council while in the NTC-held city of Misrata.

    "This information is a lie and does not reflect reality because I was near the front of Sirte with 23 fighters," Ibrahim told Arrai TV.

    "We were attacked for over a day-and-a-half by heavily armed rebels. There were deaths on both sides."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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