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Libya: Rebels push into central Sirte

One of Gaddafi's last strongholds appears about to fall to Libya's rebels.

SIRTE, Libya — Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte turned into a free-fire zone Friday, the second day of the rebels’ assault on the coastal city, one of three remaining major cities in loyalist hands.

Rebel brigades, mostly from Misrata, with heavy guns strapped to pickup trucks converged on the Sirte airport and the Al-Zaafran neighborhood, the two places where the fighting was heaviest Friday afternoon.

“We are massing on the edge (of Sirte) to push inside,” said Mouhammad Joubi of Misrata, who was in Al-Zaafran.

The rebel forces attempted to push down September 1 Street into Sirte's city center, but faced heavy sniper fire and rockets all along the route.

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While gun trucks rolled up the September 1 frontline to unload a stream of bullets, small groups ran forward to try to take out the snipers they believed were holed up in a bullet-scarred mosque.

One gun truck backed into the free-fire zone, only to have its heavy anti-aircraft gun jam. Others followed with heavy fire, but it was difficult to gauge their effectiveness as sniper bullets still whizzed overhead.

In the roundabout of Al-Zaffran, the brigades began to mass even more heavily and turned their firepower on a palm grove, beyond which snipers were presumably positioned.

A man suffering a shrapnel wound in the groin was treated in the middle of the firefight, as others chanted “Allah Akbar” in time with the Tiger Brigade’s commander who stood on a jeep hood.

Fighters said they seized two loyalist scud missiles and one tank. Reporters also confirmed one 155 artillery piece was taken. Meanwhile, reporters counted at least three rebel tanks and four armed trucks rolling towards the center this morning. Heavy Girat rocket launchers were also seen on the highway headed toward Sirte late Friday afternoon.

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Some residents on the outskirts of Sirte appeared to welcome revolutionary forces Friday morning, with a few waving from their homes. An older man said he had been waiting to go in with the fighters to find his daughter inside Sirte.

Most surprisingly, Sirte resident Abdul Al Mutaly, 30, said he had not heard that Tripoli had fallen. He said there had been no electricity for weeks inside Sirte. Al Mutaly said he was given a gun by Gaddafi loyalists, but he gave it to rebels when they came close to his home. Other stretches of neighborhoods inside Sirte appeared like ghost towns.

At a local hospital some 80 miles (130 kilometers) away from the front, doctors confirmed that there were at least three dead and 15 wounded Friday, adding to the 13 dead and 45 wounded from Thursday. Dr. Mohammed Salah characterized Thursday’s wounded as suffering more from shrapnel wounds, whereas Friday’s injuries are more from bullets, which is consistent with the idea that the rebels are more engaged in a street by street battle as they penetrate further into the Sirte.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/110916/libya-rebels-push-central-sirte