Monday 22 January 2018

Rebels wait out deadline, ready to fight

Rob Crilly in Umm Saeda

THE rebels were getting impatient. With the clock ticking towards today's deadline for the surrender of Sirte, they made one sortie too many.

With a whistle and a crash, the smooth tarmac exploded into flashes of fire. Smoke plumes shot high into the air. The incoming Grad rockets and tank shells were a reminder that the road to Sirte is long, straight and dangerous.

Muammar Gaddafi might have disappeared -- but his troops, dug in on the eastern approach, show no signs of giving up his hometown. There was some of the heaviest fighting in weeks yesterday as rebels retaliated with their own rocket salvos.

For two weeks, Libya's rebels, victorious in the west, have waited while their political leaders negotiate a surrender with elders in Sirte.

The country's new leaders know that Gaddafi's hometown could become a bloodbath, and have already delayed the deadline once to allow more time for a peaceful takeover -- much to the frustration of hundreds of fighters gathered at the edge of Umm Saeda ready to race the 60 or so miles to Sirte.

So far the talks have made little progress. Gaddafi loyalists, and many civilians from his Gaddafa tribe, say they fear retribution and will only allow the country's new rulers to enter without weapons. And they want amnesties for those accused of crimes committed under Gaddafi. Neither is acceptable to the National Transitional Council.

Tanks and artillery pieces were moving towards the frontline, ready for today's big push.

"It has been frustrating," admitted Col Abdulsalaam Rishy, a few miles back from the front where Howitzer artillery crews were waiting for the deadline. "We are ready to fight them, but we must wait." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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