8 Oct 2011

Ferocious fighting in Sirte as NTC tightens grip

Troops loyal to fugitive former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi are putting up fierce resistance as National Transitional Council forces target the Gaddafi stronghold of Sirte.

Libyan fighters are sweeping towards Muammar Gaddafi’s last remaining stronghold of Sirte, backed by heavy weapons.

But troops loyal to the fugitive leader are fighting back in ferocious street-to-street battles, forcing thousands of people to flee the town.

“There is a very vicious battle now in Sirte,” National Transitional Council (NTC) Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil told reporters in the capital, Tripoli, where he was meeting visiting defence ministers from Britain and Italy.

There is a very vicious battle now in Sirte. Mustafa Abdel Jalil, NTC chairman

“Today our fighters are dealing with the snipers that are taking positions and hiding in the city of Sirte.”

NTC forces have pushed to within less than half a mile of loyalist fighters in the heart of the city.

One commander, who has been overseeing attacks on loyalist positions, said he was hopeful of taking the city by the end of the day.

Nato warplanes continued to circle above the battle during the morning, but made no strikes.

Last stronghold

Revolutionary forces have been pushing into the Mediterranean coastal city from the west, east and south in heavy fighting, trying to sequeeze Gaddafi loyalists into an increasingly small perimeter.

Residents who havee fled Sirte say there is no electricity, water or food in the city.

Sirte is the last major city to remain in loyalist hands following the collapse of Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule in August.

The prolonged struggle to capture the few remaining bastions of pro-Gaddafi loyalists has sidetracked NTC efforts to set up effective government over Libya and rebuild oil production.

Libya’s new rulers have put a full transition of power to the NTC on hold until Sirte is under their full control.