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Libya's rebels close in on Gaddafi home town

If rebels can capture Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte, the path is clear to the capital of Tripoli – so a heavy battle is likely.

Rebel vehicles hit the road out of Ras Lanouf on the way to Sirte, home town of Muammar Gaddafi.
Rebel vehicles hit the road out of Ras Lanouf on the way to Sirte, home town of Muammar Gaddafi.
Image: STR/AP

REBEL FORCES ARE bearing down on Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, a key government stronghold where a brigade headed by one of the Libyan leader’s sons was tonight digging in to defend the city and setting the stage for a bloody and possibly decisive battle.

The opposition made new headway in its rapid advance westward through oil towns and along stretches of empty desert highway toward Sirte and beyond to the big prize — the capital, Tripoli.

But the rebels remain woefully outgunned by Gaddafi’s forces, who swept the insurgents from positions in eastern Libya until the international intervention forced government troops to withdraw.

Earlier, rebel fighters moved about 70 miles west from the coastal oil terminal and town of Ras Lanouf to just beyond the small town of Bin Jawwad, where their push was halted by government fire along the exposed desert highway and the heavily mined entrance to Sirte.

The rebels were tonight camped just 60 miles from Sirte, the bastion of Gaddafi’s power in the centre of the country.

If rebels can take Sirte, only Misrata – which they already hold – and empty desert stands in the way of the capital. Sirte could therefore see some of the fiercest fighting of the rebellion.

“Gaddafi is not going to give up Sirte easily because straightaway after Sirte is Misrata, and after that it’s straight to Gaddafi’s house,” said Gamal Mughrabi, a 46-year-old rebel fighter. “So Sirte is the last line of defense.”

Some residents were fleeing Sirte, as soldiers from a brigade commanded by Gaddafi’s son al-Saadi and allied militiamen streamed to positions on the city’s outskirts to defend it, witnesses said.

Sirte was hit by airstrikes Sunday night and Monday morning, witnesses said, but they did not know what was targeted.

- AP

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