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Troops 'tighten noose' on Sirte

Libyan forces have fought their way into the eastern outskirts of Muammar Gaddafi's home town of Sirte in a bid to link up with comrades from the west and tighten the noose around the loyalist stronghold.

More than a month after sweeping into Tripoli and ending Gaddafi's nearly 42-year rule, Libyan forces still face fierce resistance on three fronts - in Sirte, the town of Bani Walid south-east of the capital and in pockets in the country's vast desert south.

Some of the heaviest fighting has taken place in Sirte, which anti-Gaddafi forces first attacked nearly two weeks ago, but have pulled back in the face of fierce resistance from loyalists holed up inside.

Revolutionary forces have staked out positions to the west and south of the city, and commanders said anti-Gaddafi forces advancing on Sirte from the east also pushed into the city's outskirts.

Abdel-Basit Haroun, a rebel field commander, said his fighters reached a roundabout less than six miles east of the city centre. He said the plan was for the forces from the east and west to meet inside Sirte.

"We are almost there, but the hard phase of the take over has just begun," he said. "We stopped using heavy weapons because the residential areas are packed with families, children and women. We are also facing snipers all over the rooftops of tall buildings."

A brigade commander on the city's western front, Al-Tohami Abu Zayan, said that anti-Gaddafi forces can take Sirte "whenever we choose," but are holding back to protect civilians. He said fighters are in touch with civilians inside and working to secure them a way out of the city.

For nearly two weeks, revolutionary forces have regularly fired mortars, Grad rockets and tanks shells into the city. Civilians have fled the city for days, driven out by the fighting as well as deteriorating living conditions, including shortages of food, water and medicine.

The fighters besieging Sirte have received a boost in recent days from Nato, which has played a key role in striking Gaddafi's military forces since first intervening the Libyan civil war in March.

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