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Libya: Rebels push hard toward Sirte (VIDEO)

Rebels encounter fierce resistance in last Gaddafi strongholds.

Libya's rebel forces engaged in fierce fighting Saturday in Sirte and Ban Walid.

The rebel fighters launched the twin assaults on the two remaining strongholds of Gaddafi loyalists, who still maintain control of territory along the central coast and in the southern desert three weeks after the topple of the regime.

In the southern desert area, the rebel fighters near Bani Walid had been forced to retreat on Friday into the mountains as Gaddafi loyalists in the oasis maintain fierce resistance.

And the coastal city of Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown, has also become a battlefield of snipers firing from mosques.

AP reports:

Revolutionary fighters struggled to expand the offensive into Muammar Gaddafi's hometown Saturday with street-by-street battles and commanders seeking to break open a new front against loyalist forces fiercely defending the most symbolic stronghold remaining from the shattered regime.

The fresh assaults into the seaside city of Sirte contrasted with a stalemate in the mountain enclave of Bani Walid where demoralized anti-Gaddafi forces tried to regroup after being beaten back by Gaddafi snipers and gunners holding strategic high ground.

Sirte, however, remains the big prize for both sides.

Anti-Gaddafi fighters backed by heavy machine guns and rockets tried to push through crowded residential areas in the city - on Libya's central Mediterranean coast - but were met with a rain of gunfire and mortars. A field hospital set up outside Sirte at a gas station filled with wounded revolutionary militiamen, including those on a convoy hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

In earlier battles, Gaddafi's gunmen fired from mosque minarets and high-rise buildings. In the streets, the two sides battered each other with high-caliber machine guns, rockets and rocket-propelled grenades.

At least three anti-Gaddafi fighters were killed Saturday, said Dr. Ayab Bassin as he worked amid bloodstained bandages. The casualty count on the loyalist side was unknown.

"There is no full control over Sirte," said Hassan Dourai, Sirte representative in the new government's interim government. He said fighters reported seeing one of Gaddafi's sons, Muatassim, shortly before the offensives began Friday, but he has not been spotted since the battles intensified.

The whereabouts of Gadhafi and several of his sons remain unknown. Other family members have fled to neighboring Algeria and Niger.

In the mountain enclave of Bani Walid, about 90 miles south-east of Tripoli, revolutionary forces pulled back after a day of intense fighting that failed to dislodge pro-Gaddafi snipers and gunners from strategic positions.

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Libya and joined Friday prayers in Tripoli's Martyrs' Square.

"You have shown the whole world that no one can stand before the power and the will of the people," he said in a speech as thousands cheered.

The U.N. Security Council on Friday eased sanctions on Libya, including on its national oil company and central bank, to enable key institutions to recover after the civil war, Reuters reports.

The 15-nation council voted unanimously for a resolution that also establishes a U.N. mission in Libya to help the North African nation stabilize (Read more at Globalpost.com).

The resolution begins lifting punitive measures imposed on the oil-exporting country six months ago when Gaddafi was overseeing a crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators, Reuters reports.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/110917/libya-fierce-fighting-sirte-and-bani-walid