NATO airstrikes hit Gadhafi's hometown in Libya

September 21, 2011 - 9:20 AM
Mideast Libya

Revolutionary fighters celebrate the capture of a tank from pro-Gadhafi resistance forces in Sirte, Libya, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011 . Revolutionary fighters have not been able to take over central positions in Sirte. Pro-Gadhafi forces have the advantage of knowing the city and are heavily armed, making it impossible for the former rebels to stand in at night after advancing during the day. The sheepskins served as camouflage. (AP Photo/Gaia Anderson)

SIRTE, Libya (AP) — NATO airstrikes pounded an area in Moammar Gadhafi's hometown Wednesday, fighters said, while revolutionary forces surrounding the city came under rocket fire.

Despite the continued fighting, Libya's new rulers said a new government would be formed within 10 days, as they struggle to assert control over the country and assert international legitimacy.

Mahmoud Jibril, the premier for the National Transitional Council, said most of the work has been done on forming a new Cabinet, but it was important to ensure national consensus on the issue. The NTC failed to agree on a list of ministers over the weekend, dashing hopes a new government would be in place before Jibril and NTC leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil left to represent Libya at the U.N. General Assembly.

Jibril said Tuesday in New York that he expects a new government to be formed "within a week, 10 days maximum from now," adding that the current political difficulties were not unusual for a "country which was absent from ... .any democratic culture."

He said "most of the work has been done" but one issue still to be decided was the number of ministries to be located in the capital. He said one option was to divide the ministries between the eastern and western parts of the country.

Gadhafi wielded near-total control over the North African nation for nearly 42 years before he was forced into hiding after months of civil war. The uprising — inspired by the successful ouster of autocratic leaders in Tunisia and Egypt — spread from the eastern city of Benghazi in mid-February.

Armed fighters still loyal to the fugitive leader have repelled anti-Gadhafi forces in Sirte, the mountain enclave of Bani Walid and the southern area of Sabha.

Government forces have made inroads against Gadhafi loyalists in Sabha, the gateway to a key road leading south to the border with Niger.

Abdel-Salam Sikayer, a spokesman for a local council in Sabha, said anti-Gadhafi forces largely have control over two neighborhoods and are fighting to overtake pockets of resistance.

He said 28 people, including three children, had been killed in fighting over the past two days — 18 on Tuesday and 10 on Monday.

President Barack Obama said Tuesday the NATO-led bombing campaign in Libya will continue as long as civilians are threatened. He urged Gadhafi loyalists to lay down their arms and join the new Libya, declaring, "the old regime is over."

NATO has launched over 8,750 strike sorties on Libya since late March. The latest strikes hit military targets belonging to Gadhafi loyalists in Sirte, according to a NATO statement released Wednesday. The Western military alliance also said it struck targets Tuesday some 175 miles (280 kilometers) south of Sirte in Weddan, where revolutionaries suspect military weapons to Gadhafi loyalists in Sirte may be coming from.

Revolutionary fighters tried to push into Sirte, 250 miles (400 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast, over the weekend but were driven back by fierce rocket and gunfire. They pulled back to regroup, although the two sides exchange fire daily.

Akram Hameida, a 27-year-old fighter from the nearby city of Misrata, said he heard about 10 NATO airstrikes within about five to 10 minutes of each other on Wednesday afternoon. He said they appeared to be hitting close to the downtown area and airplanes roared overhead.

As he spoke, rockets fired by Gadhafi loyalists in the city rained down on a sandy rural area with scattered trees close to revolutionary force positions.

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Associated Press writer Tarek el-Tablawy contributed to this report from the United Nations.