World

Besieged Libyan city's residents flee in fighting lull

Libyan rebel forces have paused in their push for deposed ruler Moammar Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, saying the former leader's loyalists remain entrenched in the city.

Gadhafi loyalists entrenched in deposed Libyan ruler's hometown of Sirte

People fleeing the fighting in Sirte in recent days are reporting water and food shortages in the Libyan city. (Anis Mili/Reuters)

Libyan rebel forces have paused in their push for deposed ruler Moammar Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte, saying the former leader's loyalists remain entrenched in the city.

Leaders with the National Transitional Council say they have Sirte surrounded. On Saturday, the NTC said its forces seized the headquarters of the Saadi Gadhafi brigades, an army unit led by Gadhafi's third son.

Revolutionary forces remain about five kilometers from the city centre. Last week, they took over Sirte's port, airport and military base.

Familes in Sirte, which has seen two weeks of fighting, have been given the weekend to escape the fighting. Columns of cars, many bearing mattresses on the roof, have been streaming out of the city, about a kilometre from the frontlines.

Volunteers gave out food and water while fighters checked cars.

Those leaving Sirte report that food is in short supply and there is no water or electricity in the city of 100,000.

NATO’s MISSION

Since NATO took command of air strikes on March 31, its  aircraft have conducted 24,574 sorties, including 9,164 strike sorties. NATO members participating in air strikes include  France, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Belgium, Italy and the United States.

Twelve ships under NATO command are patrolling the central  Mediterranean Sea to enforce a UN arms embargo. A total of 2,888 vessels have been hailed, 293 boarded and  11 diverted since the start of the arms embargo.

Workers from the International Committee of the Red  Cross (ICRC) managed to bring medical supplies into the besieged town on Saturday, warning of a potential humanitarian disaster.

The Red Cross told Al Jazeera there were 200 wounded people at one hospital which was experiencing a shortage of body bags and fuel for its generator. Red Cross workers dropped off medical kits and fuel but were not able to see patients.

"The hospital is facing a huge influx of patients, medical supplies are running out and there is a desperate need for oxygen. On top of that, the water reservoir has been damaged," said an ICRC statement released late Saturday.

Meanwhile, Army General Carter Ham, head of the U.S. Africa Command, told The Associated Press that NATO’s Libya mission could end next week, pending a meeting of NATO ministers. Ham said air strikes would likely end however, drones would remain to collect intelligence.

Canada has flown numerous air missions over Libya and provided sea support as part of the NATO mission..

The mission was designed to enforce a UN resolution allowing the imposition of a no-fly zone and military action to protect Libyan civilians.

With files from The Associated Press

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