Monday, 10 October 2011

NTC forces closing in on Sirte

National Transitional Council's (NTC) forces have made considerable headway in the battle for the city of Sirte, one of the remaining Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi strongholds and his hometown.

NTC leaders have said that they have captured the city's main hospital, the university and the Ouagadougou conference centre. But fighting continues around the city. According to the NTC, once the city is under its control the Council will declare national liberation, irrespective of whether or not Qadhafi remains at large.

Qadhafi loyalists also have control of the desert territory of Bani Walid, but it is seen as less significant as it does not lead to any exit routes from the country. Speaking about the current situation, NTC's chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil said: “I do believe, God willing, that the liberation of these cities [Sirte and Bani Walid] will happen within this week."

In August, members of Qadhafi's family and his inner circle fled to neighbouring Algeria and Niger.

Now, after months of political deadlock it's all come down to a few square kilometres in the Libyan Leader's hometown.

On Sunday 9th October, NTC reported that it had captured the city's main conference complex. It also captured the main Ibn Sina hospital, where people wounded in the offensive were seeking treatment. While many were civilians, others were taken into custody by the NTC, suspected of being Qadhafi loyalists.

According to the Associated Press news agency, the injured were lying on the floors to protect themselves from the firing going on outside. NTC field commander Osama Swehli Muttawa said: "We took 50 prisoners. They were mostly mercenaries. They were lying in beds pretending to be wounded. Some were wounded. We found Kalashnikov and other weapons under their beds."

Thousands of civilians remain trapped in Sirte, many of them fearful of retaliation by the NTC forces. It has also been reported that the Council's forces have taken control of Qadhafi's residences in the city.

The NTC fighters came up against heavily armed Qadhafi loyalist on Friday (7th October) and Saturday (8th October). Speaking about it NTC commander Nasser Zamud told AFP the fighting in the university area had been "difficult" with NTC forces facing "a lot of snipers".

On Thursday 6th October, Qadhafi delivered an audio message urging Libyans to take to the streets "in their millions" to resist the interim goverment.

Sources: BBC News, AFP, AP

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

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