Friday 23 March 2018

Fall of Gaddafi's Sirte stronghold now 'very close'

Ben Farmer in Sirte

The fall of Muammar Gaddafi's home city of Sirte is "very close" and will bring an end to the Libyan conflict, Dr Liam Fox, Britain's defence secretary, declared yesterday as revolutionary forces continued to face determined resistance from diehard loyalists.

Positions which had seemed cleared 24 hours earlier came under accurate rifle and grenade fire during the day, pushing back forces loyal to the new interim government.

As dusk fell, the rebels again attempted a two-pronged assault into the city's north-western second district to break the defenders.

"We are getting very close to the fall of Sirte, which I think may bring the Libyan conflict to a close," Dr Fox said after a meeting of the National Security Council.

William Hague, the foreign secretary, later told MPs that Britain's military operations in Libya would continue as long as the country's interim leaders needed them.

"Last week, NATO agreed that the positive trend in Libya is irreversible, but that not all Libya's population is yet safe from attack," he said.

"We will continue operations to enforce United Nations' Security Council resolution 1973 for as long as is necessary at the request of the National Transitional Council (NTC)."

British forces have flown 3,000 sorties, damaging or destroying 1,000 Gaddafi regime targets, since March, he added.

Uncertainty still surrounded the whereabouts of Mutassim Gaddafi, son of the ousted dictator, after conflicting reports from the NTC.

Claims that Mutassim, national security adviser to his father's government, had been seized trying to flee Sirte were denied by some officials.

Meanwhile, rebel fighters struggled to advance down a main thoroughfare thigh-deep in water from burst water mains into the heart of the last pocket of resistance.

Despite a fearsome barrage of artillery, the defenders kept the advance pinned down with small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire.

A rebel officer who gave his name as Wajdi said: "We are blocking them from the west and then attacking from the south and the east. They have nowhere to go except the sea." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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