Fighters of Libya’s National Transitional Council, NTC, have retreated under heavy fire from Muammar Gaddafi diehards in his hometown, Sirte.
The fighters, who had been hoping to mop up the last pockets of resistance in two northwestern residential districts, withdrew at least two kilometres to the police headquarters they had captured on Tuesday, the Agence France Presse (AFP) stated.
“We have been told to retreat to the police HQ and will be using artillery cannon to hit Gaddafi’s forces,” fighter Hamid Neji of the Martyrs of Free Libya Brigade told AFP on the new front line.
As heavy artillery fire was heard in the city’s west and thick black smoke rose over the waterfront to the north, ambulances with sirens ablaze ferried the many wounded out for treatment.
The intensity of fighting eased later to machine gun and occasional rocket fire, mainly from the forces of the new regime, as they waited for further orders expected in the evening or on Friday.
Before the reverse, a field commander of the brigade had told AFP its fighters were trying to avoid using heavy weaponry against the Dollar and Number Two residential neighborhoods to avoid civilian casualties.
“We are not going very aggressively into these neighborhoods because there are still families inside them,” commander Yahya al-Moghasabi said.
Sirte is a key goal for Libya’s new leaders who have said they will not proclaim the country’s liberation and begin preparing for the transition to an elected government until the city has fallen.
The new regime began its siege of Sirte on September 15 before launching what it termed a “final assault” last Friday that has seen about 91 of its troops killed and hundreds wounded, according to medics.
Its forces have encircled Gaddafi loyalists after taking control of Sirte’s waterfront, its showpiece conference center, university, hospital and main Square.
A top adviser of NTC chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil meanwhile backtracked on his announcement that they had captured Kadhafi’s feared son and national security chief Mutassim in Sirte, after it was denied by military commanders in the city.