SIRTE, Libya, Sept 24, (AFP) - Fighters for Libya's interim rulers entered Muammar Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte in a "surprise" NATO-backed assault that one commander said would lead to the city's fall today.
National Transitional Council chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil said in his former eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi, meanwhile, that a transitional government would be announced next week.
At a makeshift field hospital in a mosque west of Sirte, Dr Fatih Danini reported at least two NTC fighters were killed and 30 wounded in an apparent pincer movement also launched from the south and east.
Using tanks and pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns, the NTC forces cleared away roadblocks set up by Gaddafi forces and drove toward the city centre before setting up their own defences in advanced positions.
"We are pushing them back now" after a "surprise" order to attack issued by the NTC's top military brass, commander Mohammed al-Aswawi said in a radio truck monitoring all units on the front. "First we get the families out, and then the order is to attack and free Sirte," he told AFP. "There is also an advance from the south," he added, as the Misrata Military Council said the city's southern front was being reinforced by NTC fighters that took part in "the liberation of Al-Jafra."Another commander said: "We're taking Sirte today. Our fighters are four to five kilometres into the city," from the roundabout that has been the front line for the past several days.
NTC fighters also came under heavy fire as they advanced inside Sirte's eastern gates, another AFP correspondent reported. "Our troops went seven kilometres inside through the eastern gate and there were sporadic to sometimes heavy clashes with Gaddafi's forces," said commander Mohammed al-Marimi of the Fakriddin Sallabi Brigade.
The assault was launched following reports of a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in the city of around 75,000 inhabitants.
And in a statement, NATO said its forces "struck a series of targets Gaddafi forces used in order to threaten the civilian population of Sirte" after reports describing "worsening conditions precipitated by Kadahfi forces.""The brutal nature of their acts, signify a defunct regime in its final days," said NATO.
Heavy fighting also raged in Bani Walid, the only other remaining bastion of pro-Gaddafi diehards, as medics reported a total of 30 NTC troops have been killed so far on that front.