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Bani Walid fighting intensifies as sporadic explosions rock Sirte

The flag of Libya’s National Transitional Council flying outside the UN headquarters yesterday in New York. Photo: AFP

The flag of Libya’s National Transitional Council flying outside the UN headquarters yesterday in New York. Photo: AFP

Fierce fighting raged yesterday in Bani Walid as new regime fighters attacked the oasis town where a son of Muammar Gaddafi is believed holed up, possibly with his father, said Libya’s rulers.

“The revolutionaries came to Bani Walid this morning (yesterday morning) and engaged in a hard battle,” Abdullah Kenshil, a senior official in the National Transitional Council (NTC), said.

Mr Kenshil said the battle against Col Gaddafi’s mercenaries for control of Bani Walid, one of the ousted strongman’s few remaining bastions southeast of Tripoli, was a “done deal and will be completed in the next two days”.

The NTC official said that Seif al-Islam, the most prominent son of the ousted Libyan leader, had been seen in Bani Walid, and that it is likely that his father is also in the oasis town.

Meanwhile, Libyan families yesterday fled Sirte as sporadic explosions rocked the Medi-terranean city which is one of the final strongholds of fugitive leader Muammar Gaddafi.

“Things are not good because of the clashes,” said Tarek Mohammed travelling with his wife and daughter out of the city at breakneck speed.

“Gaddafi’s forces have been firing heavy artillery from in front and between our houses,” said the resident of zone three, which hugs the coastline and has been at the epicentre of the last few days of fighting.

“There were a lot of deaths yesterday, including children,” he said.

A family fleeing Sirte towards Misurata charged that forces loyal to Col Gaddafi have been using them as “human shields” by putting up their guns within residential areas and have prevented them from leaving the city.

“A Gaddafi soldier prevented us from leaving at gunpoint so we had to take a roundabout road early this morning before clashes started,” said Sanaa Ali Mansur, a 25-year-old escaping with her husband. A few of the families travelling out of the besieged city were escorted by former rebels. At one checkpoint east of Sirte, NTC fighters prevented them from speaking to the press. Others were just too afraid to say a word.

New regime forces interrupted an AFP correspondent from interviewing a family from Sirte – probably because they fear their narratives could tarnish their reputation.

“Three of my neighbour’s children died in crossfire yesterday,” said Wafia Ahmed a 70-year-old Bedouin woman with traditional tattoos who also fled from zone three.

“I left because I was so afraid even though the rebels were good to us,” she said, adding that since crossing over to the areas under control of the National Transitional Council she has been able to get medical care.

Mr Ahmed said that support for Col Gaddafi had dried out in Sirte which has suffered shortages of fuel, electricity, water and medicine for months and that the only diehard loyalists are members of his tribe.

“It is just the Gaddafi tribe that still stands behind him,” she said of Gaddafi clan, adding that due to an information blackout “a few brainless, ignorant” residents continued to support the strongman.

But NTC forces suspect Col Gaddafi enjoys a broader base of support.

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