Libyan NTC troops hit tough Sirte resistance

National Transitional Council forces on Saturday swept further into Sirte, before retreating under heavy artillery fire after two hours of clashes.

Last Updated: Sep 17, 2011, 19:50 PM IST

Sirte (Libya): National Transitional Council
forces on Saturday swept further into Sirte, a remaining stronghold
of Muammar Gaddafi, before retreating under heavy artillery
fire after two hours of clashes.

The fighting focused on a roundabout at September 1
Street, the town`s main artery into the south from the
southeast.
"The situation at the roundabout is pitiful. There is no
central command, we are retreating to regroup and re-enter
again from three fronts," said Al-Dhahira Brigade commander
Saleb Abu Shaala.

Gaddafi forces in Sirte, the ousted leader`s hometown,
have put up stubborn resistance against at least 6,000 former
rebel fighters how massed in and around the town.

Abu Shaala said the clashes erupted at about 10:30 am
(0830 GMT) and that Gaddafi`s forces used heavy artillery and
rockets against them.

"We hit back with Grad rockets," he said.

Abdel Nasser al-Sheikh, of the Misrata Military Council,
charged that Gaddafi troops "are firing from the Bin Hamal
mosque. We cannot attack this place."
On the outskirts of Sirte, a medic with his face blown
open was one of two people who had been killed and brought in
from the front lines.

"He was a civilian working in the ambulances," Dr Marwan
al-Mubarak told agency, adding that the second man was killed by
a sniper bullet to the heart.

Colleagues of the ambulance man broke into tears as his
body was brought in, and repeatedly shouted "Allahu akbar"
("God is greatest") as they continued to treat other
casualties, most of them seriously wounded, an agency reporter
said.

One man had his chest and arm punctured by rocket
shrapnel, while another had been shot in the neck and one in
the hand.

A fourth wounded man with bloodied legs also arrived after
being evacuated in a police car from fighting at the
roundabout.
Commander Salem Jeha, a member of Misrata Military
Council, told agency earlier by telephone: "We are now
concentrated in a handful of buildings in the city and on the
outskirts including Wadi Abu Hadi where Gaddafi`s forces are
concentrated."

Sirte airport came under complete NTC control late last
night, he said.

Earlier today at the Gate 30 checkpoint 30 kilometres (18
miles) west of Sirte, truckloads of ammunition could be seen
heading towards the front, along with more pick-ups bearing
fighters and anti-aircraft guns.

Jeha said there were some 1,200 NTC armed vehicles and
thousands of fighters, mostly from Misrata, in the Sirte area.

"There may be houses and pockets of resistance, but they
will not be able to overcome the rebels` massive forces," he
said, adding that he had received reports that half of the
city`s civilians had fled.

The attacking fighters were trying to prevent civilian
loss of life and were not seeking revenge: "We are not using
heavy weapons except to protect our rebels when they are
targeted."
Speaking before reports of the September 1 Street
pull-back, Lieutenant Abdel Wahid al-Aguri, a former regular
officer, said: "We are now in control of the highway and the
southern part of the city."

PTI