Libya conflict: Nato hits Gaddafi stronghold of Sirte

Alastair Leithead: "It's very hard for them to move forward because of the urban warfare that they're locked into"

Nato planes have bombed targets in one of the last pro-Gaddafi strongholds, Sirte, as government forces continue their assault on the city.

Soldiers of the National Transitional Council (NTC) have been facing fierce resistance and deployed tanks to fend off sniper fire by Gaddafi loyalists.

NTC forces have seized the port as they move towards the centre of Sirte - the birthplace of Libya's ousted leader.

Civilians have been leaving the city, as water, food and medicine run low.

Britain's ministry of defence said Royal Air Force and Nato aircraft had been "very active" over Sirte on Tuesday, destroying military targets including ammunition storage facilities.

They also conducted strikes on a vehicle storage depot that has been serving as one of the main pro-Gaddafi bases. The air strikes continued on Wednesday.

Fierce resistance

Along with the city of Bani Walid, Sirte is the last major area under the control of Gaddafi loyalists. Both cities have been the scene of intense fighting in recent weeks.

In Bani Walid, according to one report, at least 11 NTC fighters were killed by rockets fired by pro-Gaddafi troops on Wednesday.

At the scene

All night bombs struck the centre of Sirte as Nato aircraft tried to weaken defensive positions held by pro-Gaddafi troops.

More civilians left the city at first light, but people are still reporting food and water shortages, as well as the obvious dangers of being caught up in the battle for Sirte.

There's clearly determination and resources for the defence of the city, and a fear, for the sake of those unable to leave, that the violence could continue for some time.

A field commander said resistance from fighters loyal to Col Gaddafi had stalled the NTC's advance on the city.

"There is always incoming missile and artillery fire. We are returning fire with heavy weapons but we are not sending in infantry," Capt Walid Khaimej told AFP.

"Nato is here but is not doing enough. They take out the rocket launchers firing at us, but they are immediately replaced. We need more help from Nato."

The Red Cross has warned that the living conditions for civilians both in Sirte and Bani Walid are becoming increasingly critical.

Civilians have continued to flee from Sirte, as a lack of clean drinking water is reported to have led to the spread of water-borne diseases.

"There's no food, no electricity. We were eating just bread," Sirte resident Saraj al-Tuweish told AFP news agency as he left the city on Tuesday.

"I've been trying for 10 days to get out and every time the army forced us back. Today, we used a dirt road early in the morning and we managed to escape."

In the capital, Tripoli, interim authorities said they had found the site of a further mass grave, near the Rixos Hotel. They said that eight bodies had so far been uncovered.

It is thought Col Gaddafi is still in Libya but his location is unknown. Many of his inner circle have already fled the country.

His daughter Aisha escaped to Algeria several weeks ago, and has appeared on the Syrian-based Arrai TV channel telling the audience her father was healthy and fighting alongside his troops.

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