NORTH OF BANI WALID/EAST OF SIRTE, Libya, (Reuters) – Libyan fighters launched assaults on the final bastions of Muammar Gaddafi loyalists yesterday, with battles reported inside the holdout town of Bani Walid and near the ousted ruler’s home town of Sirte.
The battles erupted a day before a deadline set by Libya’s interim National Transitional Council (NTC) for pro-Gaddafi outposts to surrender or face onslaughts.
NTC officials said the outbreaks of fighting meant the ceasefire had effectively been scrapped. That could pave the way for some of the final battles of a six-month civil war.
As the conflict entered its final stages, diplomats said Britain plans to submit a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council early next week to start easing sanctions against Libya and establish a modest U.N. mission in the country.
Fighters besieging Bani Walid went in a day ahead of the deadline to protect civilians and were locked in street-to-street fighting with Gaddafi forces, an NTC official near the town said.
Battles also began outside Sirte in response to barrages of rockets fired by pro-Gaddafi forces.
The two towns, along with the remote desert outpost of Sabha, are the main areas still in control of Gaddafi loyalists since NTC fighters overran his Tripoli headquarters last month. The NTC said it had also dispatched hundreds of fighters deep into the desert, headed towards Sabha where it was advancing.
NTC official Abdallah Kanshil said fighters had entered Bani Walid from the north, east and south and had advanced as close as 2 km (1.5 miles) from a market in the centre.
Anti-Gaddafi forces believe some of Gaddafi’s sons, and possibly even the fallen leader himself, are holed up in the town, 150 km (95 miles) southeast of the capital Tripoli.
NTC spokesman Ahmed Bani said battles also had erupted close to a river near Sirte after pro-Gaddafi forces fired rockets at NTC forces laying siege to it. The coastal city was just a village when Gaddafi was born there 69 years ago, but has grown into a power base, lavished with cash under his rule.