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Fighting continues in Sirte as civilians flee the city

An elder from Muammar Gaddafi’s tribe inside the besieged city of Sirt has asked government forces for a truce, a local commander said on Tuesday, but there was no let up in fighting in one of its districts. Qaddafi’s hometown and one of the last bastions of support for the deposed Libyan leader, Sirte is encircled bu forces with the interim government and under bombardment from Natio warplanes.

Touhami Zayani, commander of the El-Farouk brigade outside Sirte said that the elder, whom he did not identify, had contacted him on his satellite phone. “He called me and said we are looking for a safe passage for the families and for the militia to leave the city,” he said to Reuters. Zayani said he had given his agreement for families from Qaddafi’s tribe, who make up the majority of Sirte’s population, to be allowed to leave but was negotiating terms for armed Gaddafi loyalists to surrender.

With negotiations underway, there was a lull in fighting on the western side of Sirte , where Zayani’s brigade is positioned, but there was no sign of any truce in prospect to the east of the city center. Anti-Gaddafi units who had approached the city from the east were, for a second day, pinned down by intense sniper and artillery fire at a roundabout approximately 2 km from the center fo Sirte.

Forces with Libya’s new rules, the National Transitional Council, brought up reinforcements to the roundabout to try to break through, including two tanks and about a dozen trucks carrying infantry. Snipers though help up the advance.

Taking Sirte would be an important symbolic trophy for Libya’s new rulers, and would bring them closer to gaining control of the whole country more than a month since their fighters seized the capital Tripoli. Gaddafi built lavishly, turning his birthplace, once a sleepy coastal town, into an informal second capital. It was in the marble halls of Sirte’s Ouagadougou conference center that he hosted heads of state for summits designed to burnish his image as “African King of Kings”.

The truce offer may not be decisive. Elders in Bani Walid, the other town still held by Gaddafi loyalists, held long talks with NTC forces but they were overruled by die-hard fighters in their own camp who refused to surrender.

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