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Fierce battle under way for Gaddafi's final stronghold

Rebels are mounting a “final push” into Sirte, fighting running street battles with loyalist snipers.

A rebel fighter near Sirte in recent days
A rebel fighter near Sirte in recent days
Image: AP Photo/Bela Szandelszky

WITH NATO WARPLANES circling overhead, revolutionary fighters are battling block by block as snipers rain fire from rooftops in fierce street fighting in Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown.

The battle for Sirte, seen as the most important remaining bastion of support for the fugitive leader, is crucial because Libya’s new leaders have promised to declare liberation after it is captured even though fighting continues elsewhere.

That will allow them to move forward with setting a timeline for elections and establishing normalcy in the oil-rich North African nation.

Revolutionary forces launched a major attack yesterday, pushing into the Mediterranean coastal city from the west, east and south after a three week siege from the outskirts in which they said they were giving civilians time to flee.

Gaddafi forces also remain entrenched in the central city of Bani Walid, but the transitional leaders say they will declare liberation without it because Sirte’s fall will give them control over all seaports and harbors.

British Defense Secretary Liam Fox pledged to keep up NATO airstrikes even after Sirte’s fall, saying the international military action would continue as long as the remnants of the regime pose a risk to the people of Libya.

“We have a message for those who are still fighting for Gadhafi that the game is over, you have been rejected by the people of Libya,” he told reporters today in Tripoli.

Street fighting

Anti-Gaddafi forces met strong resistance as they pushed to within less than a kilometre from loyalist fighters dug in around Sirte’s Ouagadougou convention center and Green Square in fierce street fighting in the heart of the city.

Libya’s de facto leader, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the head of the governing National Transitional Council, said the battle has been “ferocious,” with 15 revolutionary fighters killed and 180 wounded on Friday.

“Our fighters today are still dealing with the snipers positioned on the high buildings and we sustained heavy casualties,” he said at a joint news conference in Tripoli with Fox and Italian Defense Secretary Ignazio La Russa.

Suleiman Ali, commander for revolutionary forces, said loyalist forces have been driven away from Ibn Sina Hospital where hundreds of civilians have sought refuge from the fighting.

A military spokesman in Tripoli, Abdel-Rahman Busin, said he expected the city to be declared free in the next 24 hours.

“They’ve pretty much taken the city and it’s just a few pockets of resistance,” he said, adding snipers were still posing a major threat.

Read more: Libyan forces launch attack on Gaddafi stronghold>

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