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NTC Forces Hammer at Gadhafi Stronghold of Bani Walid

Fighters from around the region to joined the NTC push into Bani Walid, September, 10 2011
Fighters from around the region to joined the NTC push into Bani Walid, September, 10 2011

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Elizabeth Arrott

Forces loyal to Libya's National Transitional Council are making what they hope is the final push for Bani Walid, one of ousted leader Moammar Gadhafi's last strongholds. NATO is providing the NTC with air support.

Anti-Gadhafi forces have converged on Bani Walid in what appears to be the most serious attempt yet to take the town. An NTC commander said forces have "brought the revolution" to the Gadhafi stronghold, and at mid-afternoon they were going house to house to root out snipers fighting for Gadhafi.  

But as NATO planes circled overhead, the sound of explosions and heavy fighting could be heard at a checkpoint 3 kilometers north of the town, indicating a situation more serious than a simple mopping-up operation.  Pro-Gadhafi snipers also still held the high ground, at least briefly, at the northern checkpoint.

Despite the continued fighting, NTC forces said they were confident they were close to victory.

One fighter returning from the battle said, God willing, things were going well.

Other fighters, some of them appearing to be weekend volunteers, piled into pickup trucks and headed toward the front, chanting "God is great" while their comrades fired off celebratory rounds.

Provisional authorities had given three main Gadhafi-held towns until Saturday to surrender.  After a weeklong pause during which the sides held on-and-off negotiations, the deadline came early in Bani Walid. NTC fighters began to move in late Friday after their positions came under attack by Grad rockets.

A provisional authority spokesman said Saturday it was still not too late for Gadhafi supporters to give up.

"Anyone, who lays his weapon down and doesn't fight the revolutionary [forces] and doesn't harm the civilians, will be safe in our hands and we will protect him," and NTC commander said.

It was not clear if any high-ranking ex-officials, including Gadhafi himself or his relatives, are in Bani Walid or the other remaining strongholds, Sirte and Sabha.  Gadhafi this week released an audio message saying he remains in Libya, and called on his followers to rise up against their opponents.

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