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Civilians flee Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte

Hundreds of civilians flee Moammar Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte as Libyan revolutionary forces attempt to wear down supporters.

Sirte is one of the last bastions of loyalty to ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi

A revolutionary fighter is seen at a checkpoint outside Moammar Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, Libya on Sunday. NATO said it hit eight military targets around Sirte that day. (Manu Brabo/Associated Press)

Hundreds of civilians fled Moammar Gadhafi's hometown Monday to escape growing shortages of food and medicine and escalating fears that their homes will be struck during fighting between revolutionary forces and regime loyalists.

NATO says warplanes have struck several military targets in Moammar Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte as Libyan revolutionary forces besiege the area in an attempt to wear down Gadhafi supporters who are holed up inside.

The alliance said Monday that it hit eight targets around Sirte the previous day, including an ammunition and vehicle storage facility, a multiple rocket launcher and other military sites.

Battle for Sirte rages on

Revolutionary fighters have faced fierce resistance in efforts to take the city and the NATO airstrikes could be aimed at softening up targets for a new push in coming days.

Anti-Gadhafi fighters launched their offensive against Sirte nearly two weeks ago, but have faced fierce resistance from loyalists inside the city. After a bloody push into Sirte again over the weekend, revolutionary fighters say they have pulled back to plan their assault and allow civilians more time to flee.

Sirte, which is 400 kilometres southeast of Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast, is one of the last remaining bastions of Gadhafi loyalists since revolutionary fighters stormed into the capital last month, ending Gadhafi's rule and sending him into hiding.

The fugitive leader's supporters also remain in control of the town of Bani Walid southeast of Tripoli and pockets of territory in the country's south.

Civilians caught in the crossfire

Civilians fleeing Sirte Monday described grave shortages of food, fuel, drinking water and medicine.

Eman Mohammed, a 30-year-old doctor at the city's central Ibn Sina Hospital, said the facility was short on most medicines and had no oxygen in the operating rooms. She said most days, patients who reach the hospital find no one to treat them because fuel shortages and fear keep staff from coming to work.

She said many recent injuries appear to be caused by revolutionary forces. "Most of the people killed or injured recently are from the shelling," she said.

Forces on the city's outskirts fire tank shells, Grad rockets and mortars toward the city daily, with little more than a general idea of what they are targeting. NATO, meanwhile, is operating in Libya under a mandate to protect civilians.

Mohammed, who is from the Warfala tribe that has traditionally supported Gadhafi, said most of the fighters in the city are armed volunteers fighting for personal reasons.

"There is a bloody aspect to it," she said, standing at a rebel checkpoint outside the city. "Many people died in the battlefield as martyrs, so their relatives are angry. It doesn't have to do with Gadhafi anymore. It's more about revenge than about anything else."

She said she didn't expect the fighters to surrender easily.

"It is just simple resistance, just those who lost relatives or who are defending their homes," she said. Others said they also felt endangered by the fighting.

"We got scared for our children," said Amir Ali, 40, who ran a metal workshop in the city for years. He fled with his five when they felt the explosions they heard outside got too close to their home.

"It comes from both sides," he said. "I have no idea what kind of weapons they are, but it's all heavy stuff."

He said the shortages keep many people who would like to flee from getting out.

"There are many people inside who don't have cars to leave or can't get gas," he said. "Others don't want to leave."

Ottawa debates Libya extension 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said Canada will be part of NATO’s mission as long as it lasts, but the first extension to the mission expires Tuesday.

Parliamentarians are set to debate a three-month extension to Canada’s mission in Libya on Monday.