Monday, March 28, 2011

Libyan rebels facing tough fight for Sirte

(Al Jazeera) - Rebels are attempting to seize control of Muammar Gaddafi's hometown, but government forces are gathered to stop them.

Forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi are resisting an advance by Libyan rebels towards the embattled Libyan leader's hometown of Sirte in the fiercest clashes since the start of a sweeping offensive that has brought a string of coastal towns under opposition control.

The rebels, backed by international coalition air strikes, have advanced largely unchecked since Friday but claims in Benghazi, the rebel's eastern stronghold, earlier on Monday that Sirte had also fallen were premature.

Opposition fighters are now engaged in clashes about 100km east of the city, with pro-Gaddafi forces shelling their front lines.

Fighting is ongoing at Nawfaliya, about 180km east of Sirte, where opposition forces say they have come upon a heavily mined road. Pro-Gaddafi forces have dug into positions near the front line, and are shelling opposition fighters.

Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel Hamid, reporting from the east of Nawfaliya, said: "I've not been able to confirm that there has actually been an advance in the town itself [Sirte]. They [rebels] managed to get really close to Sirte but they didn't get in."

"Sirte will not be easy to take," said General Hamdi Hassi, an opposition commander from the city of Bin Jawad.

"Now, because of NATO strikes on [the government's] heavy weapons, we're almost fighting with the same weapons."