Thursday, April 18, 2024

Fighters attack Gadhafi stronghold

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Near Bani Walid, Libya (CNN) — Libya’s opposition fighters launched an assault on one of Moammar Gadhafi’s last bastions of support on Saturday, but they met stiff resistance and some even pulled back, military commanders said
The fighting raged after negotiators failed to work out a deal to surrender the city of Bani Walid, a hardcore Gadhafi stronghold southeast of Tripoli. Fighters believe key members of the ousted Libyan leader’s regime — including two of Gadhafi’s sons — may be hiding.
Positioned on the outskirts of the city, Grad rockets and bullets targeted the advancing fighters, some of whom retreated. Others worked to position themselves in advantageous locations.
Planes were heard overhead and fighters assumed they were NATO jets because no other aircraft has been allowed in the no-fly zone established by international powers.
The National Transitional Council, Libya’s new leadership, said it wanted to negotiate the surrender to prevent further bloodshed and destruction, though critics believe it would give Gadhafi’s fighters time to entrench themselves within the town.
Opposition forces claim Gadhafi loyalists fired on them Friday, hours ahead of a Saturday deadline to lay down their arms.
“The deadline expired yesterday when they fired at our forces with Grad rockets,” NTC chief negotiator Abdallah Kenshil told CNN.
Kenshil said he expects opposition forces to take the town soon but acknowledged the tough resistance by snipers positioned in houses and loyalist forces firing artillery and rockets.
Opposition forces have been staging outside the town for nearly two weeks, surrounding it on three sides, while negotiations were under way.
Shortly before the Saturday deadline expired, NTC spokesman Shamsuddin Ben Ali said absent a resolution “it’s up to military planners to decide how to move forward.”
Sticking points in the negotiation included the demand by Gadhafi loyalists for opposition fighters to enter their communities unarmed, and to refrain from searching houses, Ben Ali said.
The loyalists also asked for blanket pardons, but the NTC wanted to prosecute loyalists with blood on their hands, Ben Ali said.
Bani Walid is one of three major towns in Libya that remain loyal to Gadhafi. The other towns are Sirte, on the Mediterranean coast, and Sabha, in the southwest of the country.

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