As many as 1,000 Gaddafi loyalists are still holding out in the desert town of Bani Walid despite being pounded by Nato planes.
Libyan rebel fighters backed by Nato warplanes are battling to take control of one of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi‘s last strongholds.
The forces of Libya‘s Transitional National Council (NTC) advanced to within 500 yards of the centre of the desert town of Bani Walid on Saturday despite meeting stiff resistance from Gaddafi loyalists.
The rebels pulled back to allow Nato planes to launch at least five strikes at Gaddafi positions around the town.
Artillery explosions echoed across a rocky valley in the town’s northern outskirts and a rocket fired by Gaddafi loyalists landed in the hills, kicking up clouds of dust.
Daw Saleheen, a representative of the NTC’s military council, said: “We are not far from liberating Bani Walid. We urge Gaddafi fighters to lay down their weapons. You can go to any house and will be safe. It is not too late.
We are not far from liberating Bani Walid. We urge Gaddafi fighters to lay down their weapons. You can go to any house and will be safe. It is not too late. Daw Saleheen
Two NTC commanders were killed and two wounded in the fighting. Doctors said two Gaddafi soldiers and one NTC fighter were killed on Friday. NTC official Abdullah Kanshil said four or five civilians had died in overnight fighting.
He said about 1,000 pro-Gaddafi soldiers were defending the town – far more than the 150 previously estimated.
Twisted metal and wrecked vehicles littered an olive grove near Bani Walid, evidence of the ferocity of Friday’s clashes.
Ambulances streamed back and forth from the front line. NTC snipers lay on hilltops, responding nervously to any sign of movement in the sun-baked valleys around them.
Heavy fighting erupted around Bani Walid and the coastal city of Sirte, Gaddafi’s birthplace, on Friday, a day ahead of a deadline for a negotiated surrender set by the NTC.
NTC officials said the truce was effectively over, paving the way for what could prove the final battles of a civil war that evolved from February’s popular uprising against Gaddafi.
The International Monetary Fund recognises the NTC as Libya’s government and will send a team there as soon as security permits, its chief, Christine Lagarde, said on Saturday.
Britain plans to submit a draft resolution to the UN Security Council early next week to start easing sanctions against Libya and establish a modest UN mission in the country.
But NTC forces which finally overran the Libyan capital on Aug. 23 must still capture Bani Walid, Sirte and the Gaddafi-held town of Sabha in the far south, as well as find the deposed leader, before they can declare Libya liberated and set the clock ticking for elections and a new constitution.
It is not known whether Gaddafi, wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, is holed up in any of the three main strongholds his loyalists still control.
In a defiant message broadcast on Thursday, Gaddafi said he was still in Libya to lead the fight against what he called “rats” and “stray dogs” who had taken over the capital.
Escape to Niger
Niger, which has taken in several of Gaddafi’s fugitive aides and generals, said it would respect its commitments to the international court if Gaddafi or his sons arrived.
A convoy of 12 Libyan vehicles and two Nigerian military vehicles left Niger’s northern city of Agadez in the direction of Niamey on Friday afternoon, a witness said.
The convoy was believed to contain a group of 14 former Gaddafi officials, including General Ali Kana and General Ali Sharif al-Rifi, that had reached Agadez on Thursday.