Libyan rulers push into Sirte in fresh assault
Fighters battle for Gaddafi stronghold with new interim government expected this week
Hundreds of revolutionary fighters pushed into Muammar Gaddafi's hometown yesterday in the first significant assault in about a week as Libya's new rulers try to rout remaining loyalists of the fugitive leader. At the same time, the political leadership sought to boost its authority, promising to announce an interim government.
Explosions rocked the city of Sirte and smoke rose into the sky as Gaddafi's forces fired mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades at the fighters. A doctor said at least one fighter was killed and 25 others wounded in the battle.
The two sides have been locked in a standoff since former rebels tried to advance on the city a week ago but were repelled by fierce resistance.
More than a months since the then-rebels swept into Tripoli and pushed Gaddafi out of power, they are still struggling to overrun his remaining strongholds in the centre of the country and the south.
Meanwhile, members of the National Transitional Council (NTC), which was the leadership of the rebellion, are now Libya's formal rulers, though they are still working to establish their authority. Yesterday, the council's chief, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, said it would announce a new interim government in the coming week.
The NTC failed to seat a new cabinet last week amid disagreements over which cities should be represented and other issues. Yesterday, Abdul-Jalil underlined that Libyans must be united to form a new government.
He spoke to reporters after returning from New York where he and the NTC's prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, represented Libya at the first post-Gaddafi UN General Assembly.
In Sirte, revolutionary fighters occupied a key roundabout called Zafaran west of the downtown area in the Mediterranean coastal city, 250 miles southeast of Tripoli. They then advanced to a broadcasting station on a major boulevard.
Many were wounded by hand grenades and snipers firing from tall buildings, according to witnesses returning from the front lines.
Revolutionary fighters tried to push into the city last weekend but were driven back by fierce rocket barrages and gunfire, with at least 25 former rebels killed and dozens wounded. They pulled back to regroup and let civilians leave the area, although the two sides exchanged fire daily.
More than 1,300 families have left the city in the past week, fighters said. A few dozen waiting at a checkpoint outside the city yesterday described rapidly deteriorating conditions, with entire families hiding in basements and children suffering from diarrhoea because clean water is scarce.