Libya’s revolutionary fighters enter Qaddafi hometown Sirte, fight his loyalists

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Fighters loyal to Libya’s new rulers were inside Sirte, the country’s military said on Thursday, after a massive convoy of its forces launched a bid to take Muammar Qaddafi’s hometown.

“Misrata’s thwar (fighters) arrived at the al-Gharbiyat Bridge inside Sirte,” the Misrata Military Council said in a statement received by AFP.

Al Arabiya earlier reported that5 Libya’s revolutionary forces have entered the city of Sirte from the western side from the Zaafaran neighborhood and Region 2.

A spokesman for the forces loyal to the National Transitional Council, which set out from Misrata earlier in the day, confirmed that the pro-NTC troops had entered Sirte.

“I confirm our forces are in Sirte; it is a big force,” said Fathi Bashaga.

“There is still resistance but our fighters will be able to overcome it,” he told an AFP correspondent in Wadi Bey, a desert town where part of the Sirte-bound assault force was held up in a battle with Qaddafi loyalists.

“They are attacking us with 40- and 43-mm mortars and all kinds of weapons.”

“We are turning the tables on Qaddafi. We were attacked in Misrata on three fronts, and now we’re going to attack Sirte on three fronts,” said Fawzy Sawawy, commander of the Mountains Brigade.

Murzin Swesi, a fighter who retreated from the city centre with about a dozen men, said: “There are lots of snipers, and they are firing at us with heavy weapons. We will win or we will die.”

The whistle of sniper fire and the roar of heavy artillery only subsided at sundown as fighters entered the heart of the city and engaged in street by street negotiations.

Field commander Bashir Ali said: “We will stay here tonight. If anyone shoots at us we will shoot back. Only after going door by door can we say this town has surrendered.”

Earlier in the day, Libya’s provisional government said that its forces had reached the outskirts of toppled leader Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte -- still controlled by his loyalists.

“It has been a major advance today,” ruling National Transitional Council spokesman Jalal al-Gallal told Reuters.

“They are on the outskirts.”

“Nine hundred armed pickup trucks, the largest mobile force so far assembled for a single operation, attacked Sirte to free the city and raise the banner of independence above it,” the Misrata Military Council said in a statement today.

“The council’s troops were also fighting with pro-Qaddafi forces 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Sirte,” it said.

Qaddafi supporters inside Sirte were preventing civilians from leaving, according to the statement. Supplies of food, water and medicines were being moved toward Sirte to deliver to the civilian population, it said.

Pro-Qaddafi forces continue to control Sirte, as well as Bani Walid almost four weeks after the Libyan revolutionary fighters entered Tripoli and the southern towns of Hun and Sabha. The whereabouts of Qaddafi remain unknown.

Until earlier this week, repeated attempted advances by anti-Qaddafi based in the Misrata area had been blocked more than 50 km from Sirte.

Sirte is one of Qaddafi’s last main bastions along with the towns of Bani Walid and Sabha.