NTC fighters mass for assault on Gaddafi strongholds

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Fighters backing Libya’s new rulers fought their way Sunday to the gates of Bani Walid and were closing in on Sirte, poised for all-out assaults on deposed leader Muammar Gaddafi’s remaining strongholds. Interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil Saturday gave the green light for attacks on Bani Walid, southeast of Tripoli, Sirte to the east and Sabha in the deep south, after declaring the deadline for pro-Gaddafi enclaves to surrender over.
By late morning Sunday, streams of fighters backed by armoured vehicles mounted with anti-aircraft guns had massed on the edge of Bani Walid, 180 kilometres from Tripoli, AFP correspondents said. The National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters said they had routed Gaddafi loyalists and snipers from Wadidinar, a valley in the shadow of Bani Walid, as they pushed towards the oasis.
“The big challenge for us was the presence of snipers in the valley,” said military commander Colonel Ahmad Ali Mohammed. “But today we hope to complete our entry into Bani Walid.” A burnt pickup truck and a melted anti-aircraft gun spoke of the intensity of the fight that left four new regime fighters and four Gaddafi men dead, according to medics and rebels.
NATO warplanes were heard flying overhead. Abdel Jalil said the NTC “has mapped out a path and we hope that Libyans understand that we have to move along this path fast and that it is no time for revenge.” “We should put all our forces together to liberate the remaining Libyan cities of Bani Walid, Sabha and Sirte,” he said after declaring that the deadline for pro-Gaddafi enclaves to surrender had passed.
“Now the situation is in the hands of our revolutionary fighters,” Abdel Jalil said, effectively giving commanders authority to attack Bani Walid, Sirte, Sabha and other pro-Gaddafi enclaves.
The battle for Bani Walid already got off to a fitful and unscheduled start on Friday night, but NTC fighters withdrew on Saturday, apparently in anticipation of NATO air strikes.
Abdullah Kenshil, who tried but failed to negotiate the town’s surrender, said NTC fighters withdrew “for tactical reasons that could be linked to military operations that NATO might be planning.”
Four NTC fighters were killed and 26 injured in clashes around Bani Walid on Saturday, said Dr Abdul Rawuf, an emergency services doctor operating a field clinic in the hamlet of Wishtata, 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the town.
12 die in fight between rival anti-Gaddafi groups: officials: At least 12 people were killed and many more wounded when two groups of fighters opposed to Muammar Gaddafi turned on each other in Libya’s west, two officials said on Sunday.
The fighting, which has its roots in ancient rivalries and pitted combatants from the towns of Gharyan and Kikla on the one side and from Asabah on the other, broke out on Saturday, according to the chief of the Gharyan council and confirmed by the head of the military council of Asabah.
The towns are on the eastern edge of the Nafusa mountains and were important centres of resistance to Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in months of fighting to oust the strongman.