Libya conflict: Fierce fighting resumes for Sirte

The BBC's Alastair Leithead: "The big guns are marching steadily but slowly towards Sirte"

Fighting has been raging in Libya for the loyalist-held coastal town of Sirte after a setback for anti-Gaddafi forces at Bani Walid, south-east of Tripoli.

Anti-Gaddafi fighters pushed forward at Sirte with machine guns and rockets but met shellfire from loyalists.

Anti-Gaddafi forces at Bani Walid are regrouping after a retreat on Friday.

The BBC's Alastair Leithead, with the anti-Gaddafi forces near Sirte, said the fighters had advanced about another 10km (six miles) towards the city.

He says there has been slow, steady and careful progress as there are strong defensive positions which the anti-Gaddafi forces have been bombarding, wearing down and then taking.

Map of Sirte

Our correspondent says the anti-Gaddafi forces are still some distance from the town's eastern gates, although they appear to be closer on the western and southern approaches.

There are unconfirmed reports that they have now taken full control of Harawa, 80km east of Sirte, after negotiating a surrender deal.

Just outside Sirte, a number of wounded militiamen were being treated at a petrol station and one doctor told Associated Press three anti-Gaddafi fighters had been killed on Saturday.

The Sirte representative of Libya's interim leadership, the National Transitional Council, Hassan Dourai, said: "There is no full control over Sirte."

At the scene

The front lines around Sirte are moving forward. Tanks had to be jump-started today to keep up with the pace of the assault on Col Gaddafi's birthplace.

After a week dug into their positions on the eastern coast road, pro-Gaddafi troops have again been pushed back by a heavy barrage of rockets, artillery shells and Nato bombs.

To the south, the civilians who became soldiers are still firing from their pick-up trucks and in the west too, loosely surrounding the city and moving forward every day.

But Sirte is being fiercely defended by well-armed professional soldiers, under siege but showing no sign of giving up.

One anti-Gaddafi commander, Salem Jeha, told Agence France-Presse: "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."

He said there was "no possibility for [Gaddafi's forces] to continue their resistance".

However, Gaddafi's spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said there was no risk the loyalists would lose Sirte.

He told Reuters that Col Muammar Gaddafi was "leading all aspects of this struggle. He is talking to the people, he is lecturing, he is discussing, he is looking after all matters of the resistance".

Mr Ibrahim also accused Nato of air strikes on the Tamin block of residential flats overnight.

"The result is more than 354 dead and 89 still missing and almost 700 injured in one night," he said.

Nato said it was aware of the reports.

It said: "It is not the first time such allegations have been made. Most often, they are revealed to be unfounded or inconclusive."

Nato said it had struck only military targets "based on strong evidence indicating that the population of Sirte was being threatened and attacked by Gaddafi forces".

At Bani Walid, anti-Gaddafi forces pulled back after an attack was repelled on Friday.

The BBC's Peter Biles, on the road to Bani Walid, says they had met stiff resistance.

Reports said six anti-Gaddafi fighters were killed and 20 wounded in the town on Friday.


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