Rebels makinga final push for loyalist redoubt

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Anti-Gaddafi fighters launched their largest offensive yet on the city of Sirte, in what commanders called the final push for this last loyalist redoubt.

Rebels hoped the coastal city would fall today, ousting the pro-Gaddafi troops who have been resisting a three week-long siege. Hundreds of pick-up trucks assembled at dawn on the highway that loops around the city, before pushing forward on five separate fronts, firing mortar rounds, rockets and automatic weapons. The advance was met with sniper fire and more mortar rounds from the loyalist troops hiding inside the city. Many of the units found themselves pinned down.

"They hide, hit and hide, hit and hide," said Salah Al Jbou, commander of troops on the western side of the city, as his men tried to advance on the Ibn Sidr hospital.

"No one knows what's happening," said Mohammed Sweisi, a doctor working on a separate section of the frontline.

Across a field where tanks and anti-aircraft guns lined up, unleashing a barrage of missiles, was the smoke-shrouded Ouagadougou centre, where Gaddafi once hosted visits from foreign leaders, but which now serves as a defensive point for the loyalist troops within the city.

Scores of trucks had gathered along the walls around the gate of the complex and were driving in to bombard the building with anti-aircraft fire and missiles, before cycling back to reload ammunition.

Hundreds of men clustered around the gate, pushing forwards with Kalashnikovs, as sniper bullets slashed through the leaves of the trees under which they stood.

By mid-afternoon yesterday, fighters had not got beyond the main gates, but had blasted three separate holes in the wall. As of early evening they were still attacking. More progress was made on the western edge of the city, where anti-Gaddafi fighters succeeded in capturing a large development of apartments.

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