Friday 20 April 2018

Fighters close in on vanished leader's hometown

Rob Crilly in Benghazi

REBEL leaders hope to starve Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte into submission in an attempt to avoid mass bloodshed, according to the man spearheading efforts for a peaceful takeover.

Opposition fighters claim to have moved to within 20 miles of the coastal city on its western side and yesterday were also closing in from the east, where they have taken control of Bin Jawad, the last major town before reaching Sirte.

With Tripoli in rebel hands, the city is the biggest remaining base of Gaddafi loyalist resistance.

But opposition commanders know they face a long, bloody battle, with many civilian casualties, if they opt for an all-out assault. Dr Hasan Droy, Sirte representative on the opposition National Transitional Council, said troops would stop short of laying siege to the city while negotiations for its surrender continued.

"The city is already without electricity and cooking gas," he said. "Cars are not moving. Within a few days we will be able to enter peacefully."

Rebel leaders described a noose being tightened around Sirte. Mohammed al-Fortiya, the rebel commander in Misrata, confirmed making progress from east and west after heavy NATO bombing on Thursday and Friday.

Rebel forces to the east had been stalled at the oil town of Ras Lanuf last week as they came under heavy artillery fire, but managed yesterday to continue their advance, taking them about 80 miles from Sirte, where they were moving tanks and rocket launchers into position for an attack on Gaddafi troops stationed in Wadi al-Ahmar, or Red Valley.

Dr Droy said he believed senior regime figures were in the city, keeping up a barrage of pro-Gaddafi propaganda.

"They are very isolated. Gaddafi has cut off electricity so that they can't see what's happened on TV. When we talk to them about Tripoli they don't know what has happened but we have growing public opinion because of the conditions," he said.

Col Gaddafi's whereabouts remain unknown, but Sirte, a city of about 100,000 people and containing stockpiles of SCUD missiles, is one possible location for a last stand. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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