Libya new regime on verge of claiming full control of Sirte
Forces of Libya's new regime were on the verge of claiming full control of Moamer Gathafi's hometown Sirte after seizing its showpiece conference centre and university from his diehards on Sunday.
In their advance, fighters of the National Transitional Council (NTC) also seized control of the Mediterranean town's hospital and university campus, correspondents said.
The fortress-like Ouagadougou conference centre, constructed to host pan-African summits, has been a major objective of the NTC forces since they launched a September 15 offensive on the city.
"We control 100 percent of the Ouagadougou centre," said Mohammed al-Fayad, an NTC military chief, adding the capture "opens the way" for his forces to overrun the city centre.
A correspondent on the spot confirmed the NTC fighters were in control of the landmark complex. "We are ready to take the centre" of Sirte "within a matter of hours," said Fayad.
"It is only a question of coordination between (Misrata fighters on) the western front and (Benghazi fighters on) the eastern front. We just need time."
As he spoke, NTC fighters spread throughout the sprawling complex, tearing down portraits of the fugitive Gathafi and the green flags of his fallen 42-year regime.
They later advanced another kilometre (1,000 yards) north along streets littered with debris and lined by pock-marked buildings towards the heart of the city.
At the war-ravaged centre, giant windows were all blasted in and its metal roof had caved in under the artillery barrage.
"All this was built with the money of Libyans. It's our money and yet no resident of Sirte was allowed to come here," said one fighter, sitting back on a sofa.
NTC fighters also took control of the town's Ibn Sina hospital, whose upper floors were all blasted.
Patients were being kept in ground floor corridors, some of them unconscious and some with horrible injuries, most of them young men, a correspondent said.
"It was a holocaust, not a hospital. We had no drugs, no oxygen. We brought people from the upper floors to the corridor on the ground because of the shelling," said Dr Nabil Lamine.
At the hospital morgue, fighters were seen opening and closing drawers to look for the bodies of dead comrades amid a stench of death, as massive shelling rocked areas nearby.
A day after taking a four-lane avenue into the centre, the NTC forces also took control of Sirte's university and its new campus, a huge site where Gathafi snipers had been picking them off from unfinished buildings.
"We have taken the university... we have liberated the area from Gathafi's dogs," NTC commander Nasser Zamud said, as hundreds of his fighters roamed the campus.
"The fighting has been difficult; there were a lot of snipers," Zamud said of the assault on the university in the Mediterranean city's southeast.
At a Gathafi palace about 500 metres (yards) from Ibn Sina, partly destroyed by NATO air raids according to the NTC fighters, a group of men jumped up and down on a four-poster bed.
Despite the celebrations, the NTC's battle for Sirte has come at a heavy cost.
The ferocity of the Gathafi forces' resistance in Sirte and their other main bastion, Bani Walid, has surprised the new regime, with NTC chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil admitting the battle was "very vicious."
There were no immediate figures for casualties on Sunday.
Medics say that 23 NTC fighters have been killed and almost 330 wounded since Friday, when they launched what they are calling their final assault on Sirte.
Thousands of civilians were still trapped in the city, and NTC commanders said they have been pacing their advance to evacuate some of those who had not fled and to avoid losses from friendly fire.
On the western front, NTC forces also controlled most of the so-called 700-house complex, but they came under sniper fire as they advanced on Sunday, another correspondent reported.
"We're waiting for reinforcements to come and then we will move forward," NTC commander Ahmed Brasali said from a frontline position.
"We were attacked this morning by 10 Gathafi loyalists on foot; they fired RPGs and Kalashnikovs. We killed them all," he said.
The gains inside Sirte are seen as crucial by the NTC, which awaits its capture to declare the liberation of the whole of Libya, clearing the way to draw up a timetable for elections.
The council has ruled most of the oil-rich country since its forces overran Tripoli on August 23, forcing Gathafi and his inner circle to flee.
NTC commanders believe that one of Gathafi's sons, Mutassim, is holed up in Sirte and that another, Seif al-Islam, once seen as the former strongman's successor, is hiding in Bani Walid, possibly with his father.
New regime fighters have been stationed for weeks outside Bani Walid, an oasis 170 kilometres (100 miles) southeast of Tripoli. They took control on Sunday of the town's airport, the NTC said.
And heavy fighting was raging between NTC fighters and Gathafi loyalists around a kilometre (less than a mile) from the downtown area, which residents have abandoned, according to the joint command in Tripoli.
The NTC forces have been trying for a month to gain control of Bani Walid.