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Rebels attack Gaddafi home town

Libyan revolutionary fighters struggled to expand the offensive into Muammar Gaddafi's home town on Saturday, with street-by-street battles and commanders seeking to break open a new front against loyalist forces fiercely defending the most symbolic stronghold remaining from the shattered regime.

The fresh assaults on the seaside city of Sirte contrasted with a stalemate in the mountain enclave of Bani Walid where demoralised anti-Gaddafi forces tried to regroup after being beaten back by loyalist snipers and gunners holding strategic high ground.

Sirte, however, remains the big prize for both sides.

Anti-Gaddafi fighters backed by heavy machine guns and rockets tried to push through crowded residential areas in the city - on Libya's central Mediterranean coast - but were met with a rain of gunfire and mortars.

A field hospital set up outside Sirte at a gas station filled with wounded revolutionary militiamen, including those on a convoy hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

In earlier battles, Gaddafi's gunmen fired from mosque minarets and high-rise buildings. In the streets, the two sides battered each other with high-calibre machine guns, rockets and rocket-propelled grenades.

"There is no full control over Sirte," said Hassan Dourai, Sirte representative in the new government's interim government.

He said fighters reported seeing one of Gaddafi's sons, Muatassim, shortly before the offensives began on Friday, but he has not been spotted since the battles intensified. The whereabouts of Gaddafi and several of his sons remain unknown. Other family members have fled to neighbouring Algeria and Niger.

While battles raged, anti-Gaddafi commanders said they were close to reaching a surrender accord with leaders of the Harawa region, about 50 miles east of Sirte. If the Harawa deal is reached, it would open a new pathway into Sirte for revolutionary forces.

But Gaddafi's spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, claimed loyalists are in no danger of losing the city. "We have the ability to continue this resistance for months," he said on Friday in a phone call to Syrian-based Al-Rai TV, which has become the mouthpiece for the former regime.

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