Battle on for control of Gaddafi birthplace

Sirte and Bani Walid are Gaddafi`s last major bastions against the NTC.

Sirte: Fighters loyal to Libya`s
interim government are battling for full control of Sirte,
Muammar Gaddafi`s birthplace where the ousted despot`s
diehards are holed up inside a conference centre.

A senior US defence official said, meanwhile, that NATO
chiefs believe the fugitive former Libyan leader no longer
commands his loyalists who are on the verge of defeat.

But after launching what they called a final assault on
Sirte with a barrage of rocket and artillery fire, the
National Transitional Council forces still faced stiff
resistance late yesterday around the Ouagadougou conference

"We are surrounding them in the centre of the city in an
area of just a few square kilometres (miles)," NTC commander
Nasser Abu Zian said.

There were also particularly heavy clashes around and
inside the university, near the city centre, and in the
Mauritanian Quarter, said a news agency correspondent.

Following the ferocious dawn artillery and rocket
barrage, hundreds of fighters tried to enter Sirte in pick-ups
mounted with anti-aircraft and machineguns.

As they advanced into the city, the NTC fighters came
under sustained mortar, machinegun and sniper fire but took a
700-home complex west of the centre, they said.

Plumes of black smoke could be seen billowing from
several parts of the city as the Ouagadougou centre was
constantly shelled by 106 mm cannon and anti-aircraft guns.

NTC fighter Barak Abu Hajar said he had been in
action at the Ouagadougou centre and brought out a wounded

"They`re shooting from everywhere. RPGs (rocket-propelled
grenades) and lots of bullets. We were told this was the final

Another NTC fighter Faisal Asker said: "We entered the
Ouagadougou centre compound but fell back because of RPG and
sniper fire. There`s no cover there."

NATO warplanes flew overhead, but there were no reports
of air strikes.

The Misrata Military Council said at least 12 fighters
were killed and 193 wounded as a correspondent reported
that ambulances streamed in to a field hospital near Sirte
every couple of minutes.

Four ambulances were destroyed by fire from Gaddafi
forces, and two ambulance workers wounded, said hospital
administrator Ahmed Mohammed Abu Oud.

There were no immediate casualty figures from the eastern
side of the Mediterranean city, 360 kilometres east of

The interim defence minister Jalal al-Digheily yesterday
said the end of the conflict was near.

"We are very close to the end of the war and peace will
be restored all over Libya," he told reporters in Tripoli on
the occasion of visits by his British and Italian counterparts
Liam Fox and Ignazio La Russa.

"There are still some hot spots but they won`t resist
very long," he added of Sirte and Bani Walid, a desert oasis
170 kilometres southeast of the Libyan capital.

Sirte and Bani Walid are Gaddafi`s last major bastions
against the NTC, which has ruled most of the oil-rich country
since its forces overran Tripoli on August 23.

Gaddafi has since gone into hiding.


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