Sirte: Resistance from fighters loyal to ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi crumbled in his home town overnight, government commanders said on Wednesday, and just two small pockets still held out.
Fighters from the interim Libyan government`s volunteer army walked slowly up the same battle-scarred streets strewn with empty ammunition cases where they had fought fierce clashes a day before. Other fighters searched the partly destroyed houses as a few dazed civilians emerged from their basements.
"It looks as though there is no resistance from Gaddafi`s men. There are no clashes today," said government field commander Mustah Hamza.
"More than 80 percent of Sirte is now under our control. Gaddafi`s men are still in parts of neighborhood Number Two and the `Dollar` neighborhood," he said.
A few shots rang out in the distance, then a burst of heavy machine gun fire closer by. Some green flags, the banner of Gaddafi`s 42 years in power, still flew above many of the buildings, indicating how recently they had changed hands.
National Transitional Council forces said they believed Gaddafi`s son Mo`tassim, his father`s national security adviser, was still holed up in Sirte.
NTC fighters maneuvered a tank into a small side street flooded with sewage from a burst pipe. It fired a few rounds at a large building up ahead, then infantrymen moved in, letting off bursts from their AK-47s as they advanced up the street. But there was very little return fire from the pro-Gaddafi side.
"Two more days
The NTC has said it will start the process of rebuilding Libya as a democracy only after the capture of Sirte, a former fishing village transformed by Gaddafi largesse into a showpiece for his rule replete with lavish conference halls and hotels.
NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil said on a visit to Sirte on Tuesday that it would take two more days to take the town, which was the last major holdout for Gaddafi loyalists. Gaddafi himself is believed to be hiding somewhere far to the south in the vast Libyan desert.
But the remnants of Gaddafi`s forces, surrounded on three sides in Sirte and with their backs to the sea, have so far fought tenaciously, perhaps believing they face mistreatment or worse at the hands of their ill-disciplined foe.
Back from the front line, fighters from the National Transitional Council jostled with one another as one man tried to punch a wounded prisoner and others struggled to keep him off. The prisoner repeatedly shouted out that he was a civilian.
"But you had a gun," his captors said.
"I never used it," he said, fear in his eyes.
Any male of fighting age still in Sirte was under suspicion.
"We were staying in a basement," one man, Gamal Ammar, said alongside family members. "Some of us were hit. If we had died it would have been better. We had no water and no food. We couldn`t get out." As NTC fighters drew near, he fell silent.