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Monday 17 October 2011

Regime fighters retreat as Gaddafi loyalists attack

Regime fighters retreat as Gaddafi loyalists attack

A Libyan National Transitional Council fighter fires at forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi during the battle for two key districts in Sirte. Picture: AFP Source: AFP
TROOPS loyal to ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi have mounted a fierce counter-attack in the city of Sirte, forcing back fighters from Libya's new regime under a barrage of rockets and shelling.
Fighters of the National Transitional Council - which captured most of Sirte, Gaddafi's home town, last week - fled 2km to the police headquarters.
"Run, run, run!" rang out from the retreating forces.
After absorbing rocket fire and shells from NTC fighters on Saturday, Gaddafi diehards concentrated in two neighbourhoods - the Dollar and Number Two - unleashed their own barrage yesterday.
As Grad and other rockets, shells and machinegun fire rained down on them, NTC combatants, taken by surprise, quickly fled their positions on the edge of the two neighbourhoods.
Thick black smoke covered the two districts as rockets and shells smashed into buildings, setting some ablaze.
In a provisional casualty toll issued before the breakout, medics at a field hospital on the western outskirts of Sirte said one person was killed and about a dozen were injured.
"Gaddafi fighters are now concentrated in a small place, but we can't enter all at the same time. We need a plan to defeat them," Omran Allahoyb, commander of a Misratah brigade, said before the pro-Gaddafi advance.
"We can take this place in one day, but I will lose 100 men," he said, adding that the best strategy would be to bomb the area of around 1.5sq km into defeat.
NTC commanders had earlier said they decided at a meeting to hold off on an all-out assault on the Dollar and Number Two districts in a bid to capture alive the top regime figures they believe are holed up there.
"The resistance from the two neighbourhoods is high because we believe there are four to five important people inside," eastern front operations chief Wesam bin Hamaibi said after the meeting.
"We are sure that (Gaddafi's son and his national security chief) Mutassim and (ousted defence minister) Abu Bakr Yunis are inside," he said.
"We also believe that Saif al-Islam (another of Gaddafi's sons) and Gaddafi (himself) are possibly inside. We want to capture them alive to hand them over to the judiciary rather than killing them, which is why we are still not going to have a massive attack."
On another front, Libya's new leadership pressed a campaign to clear Tripoli of armed Gaddafi loyalists after gunbattles killed three people on Saturday in the first fighting to rock the capital since its capture in August.
The head of Tripoli's supreme military council, Abdel Hakim Belhadj, pledged tough action against the pro-Gaddafi fighters and "sleeper cells" of the former regime, which he said would
be targeted in the clean-up operation.

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