Step by step, fighters root out loyalists in Gaddafi’s stronghold

Whereabouts of the Libyan dictator still unknown as revolutionaries tighten their grip on Sirte

Provisional government fighters appeared to have Gaddafi forces pinned down last night in the centre of Sirte, the last Libyan city still holding out against the rebel army. "Sirte is finished!", shouted fighters in their pick-up trucks on the eastern edge of the city on Saturday afternoon, and Abu Abdul Rahman, one of the commanders on the eastern side of the city, said: "Step by step, room by room, house by house, the game is over for Gaddafi."

The anti-Gaddafi forces began a major assault on the besieged city at dawn on Friday and heavy fighting continued into Saturday evening. Fighters on the east and western edges of the city are pushing forward at five separate places in a chaotic but sustained advance. National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters now control many areas on the edges of Sirte and are holding a tightening perimeter around the city as the advance parties push further in.

Sirte has proven difficult to capture. An unknown number of pro-Gaddafi forces are holed up in high-rise buildings at the centre of the city, from where they shoot at approaching fighters and launch rockets and mortar fire.

"There is a very vicious battle now in Sirte," NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil told reporters in Tripoli, where he was meeting defence ministers from Britain and Italy. "Today our fighters are dealing with the snipers that are taking positions and hiding in the city of Sirte."

Taking Sirte would bring Libya's new rulers closer to their goal of establishing control of the entire country almost two months after they seized the capital, but they are also under pressure to spare the civilians trapped inside.

The NTC forces have thrust Gaddafi loyalists back from defensive positions well outside Sirte, and are now contesting control of the centre of the Mediterranean coastal city in often chaotic battles. A prolonged struggle to capture the few remaining pro-Gaddafi loyalists has sidetracked NTC efforts to set up effective government over the sprawling North African country and rebuild the oil production vital to its economy.

The revolutionary force grouped around Sirte is a motley mix of defected army units, inexperienced volunteer militias and brigades hardened by their experience during the siege of Misrata.

One of these groups pushing forward on Saturday was the Ali Hassan Jabr brigade, a few dozen men from cities in the east of the country. The men gathered a mile from the large complex of buildings housing the city's university, from where they blasted at the city with heavy artillery. At the vanguard of the fighting, a group moved on the university.

The men inched forward on foot, marking their progress by planting rebel flags on the ground they took. "We're looking for Gaddafi by foot," one said, as they edged closer, moving from house to house and then jogging through open scrubland, dodging behind sand banks as bullets from Gaddafi's snipers raised plumes of dust around them.

Several times they came under fire from their own side, caught in the crossfire as the revolutionaries' encirclement of the city tightened.

Fighters had to be restrained from firing on their own positions in bouts of unregulated enthusiasm. Anti-aircraft guns mounted in the back of pick-up trucks swerved dangerously into the line of their own side.

These men were civilians before the war. One said that he worked as a shepherd, another was a shop- keeper, a third an electrical engineer. By mid-afternoon this ragged assortment had reached the university complex and raised their flags on top of the buildings there.

Inside the university grounds they connected with a larger unit from Benghazi and steamed forward across an unfinished stadium where they were met with a crossfire of missiles from Misratan forces advancing from the west. One man sprinted down the road along the university gate wielding a sword and shouting: "Where is Gaddafi? Where is that dog?"

Where indeed. Months after his fall, the old dictator is still on the run.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas
footballChelsea vs West Ham live kicks off coverage of all 10 of Boxing Day matches
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all