Sirte assault on hold as NATO blasts Gadhafi hometown

Sirte assault on hold as NATO blasts Gadhafi hometown

A day after entering the coastal city in a surprise assault, NTC fighters pulled back on the Western side while east of Sirte others awaited their marching orders, AFP correspondents said.

On the political front, National Transitional Council chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil said an interim government would be announced next week and that Gadhafi's internationally "banned weapons" were now under NTC control.

"There is no fighting today, there is nobody inside the city," said frontline fighter Ahmed Mohammed Tajuri.

"We were ordered to leave downtown Sirte because NATO has a mission to do there. We left after 7 pm (1500 GMT) last night," he told AFP, as other fighters said plans to attack Sirte were postponed until Monday.

Speaking from the Western front, he said fighters were now deployed about one kilometre (less than a mile) from Sirte.

As he spoke NATO warplanes few overhead, an AFP correspondent said, adding that coalition forces had carried out "several strikes already this morning" on targets inside Sirte.

East of the city, NTC fighters cleaned and oiled Kalashnikov assault rifles and machine guns as dozens of pick-up trucks ferried other fighters to the eastern gate of the city.

"We have been told by our commanders to keep our guns ready. We expect fierce urban battle once we fully enter Sirte," fighter Maatiz Saad told AFP.

"Some artillery tanks and heavy machine guns have moved ahead inside through the eastern gate or are controlling the gate, but there will be a lot of street-to-street gunfights once we are inside the city centre."

On Saturday NTC fighters entered Sirte in what appeared to be a pincer movement from the south and the east.

"Our troops went seven kilometres inside through the eastern gate and there were sporadic to sometimes heavy clashes with Kadhafi's forces," said commander Mohammed al-Marimi of the Fakriddin Sallabi Brigade.

Misrata Military Council spokesman Abdel Ibrahim said seven NTC fighters were killed and 145 wounded in the fighting.

The fighters used tanks and pick-up trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns to clear away roadblocks set up by Kadhafi forces and drove towards Sirte city centre, erecting their own defences in advanced positions.

On a beach road surrounded by craters and pock-marked buildings, a 106mm anti-tank cannon repeatedly pounded Kadhafi positions, backed by a barrage of mortar fire and multiple rocket-launchers.

"We are pushing them back" after a "surprise" order to attack issued by the NTC's military top brass, commander Mohammed al-Aswawi said in a radio truck monitoring units on the front.

"There is also an advance from the south."

One Sirte resident who managed to flee early today said fighting subsided around 7 pm yesterday.