Anti-Gaddafi Fighters Launch Fresh Assaults On Ousted Dictator's Remaining Strongholds

Anti-Gaddafi forces have launched fresh attacks on the last remaining strongholds of the deposed leader, hours after being met with strong resistance by loyalist fighters.

Columns of tanks and armed fighters in trucks approached the coastal town of Sirte, Colonel Gaddafi's birthplace and a traditional stronghold of his regime, shortly after a previous advance was repelled by the ousted leader's forces on Friday.

The National Transitional Council (NTC) said it had made gains surrounding the town on Thursday but had been forced back after heavy resistance.

A spokesperson for the interim government told the BBC the fighters had retreated two kilometres to treat wounded soldiers after suffering at least four deaths.

In Bani Walid, roughly 180 km south of Tripoli, explosions and gunfire were reported as fighters moved on the town.

Reuters reported that the anti-Gaddafi fighters had already captured a key valley leading to the town, and were making their way inside.

The attacks suggest that the continuing fight against Gaddafi's forces is entering its final stage.

However the continued presence of the pro-Gaddafi fighters will be a concern for the NTC, whose leaders had reported that they were hours away from capturing the town over a week ago.

Nato said that it had continued raids against key targets as the fighting continues, with British jets in action around Sabha and Sirte.

There are also growing concerns for the civilians living in both Sirte and Bani Walid.

Aid agencies and other groups including the International Committee of the Red Cross have already expressed their fears that the assault could kill innocent people.

"We are concerned about a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in these three areas as well as in and around Sirte. Heavy fighting has already taken place and it could intensify," said Georges Comninos, the head of the ICRC delegation in Tripoli.

"We remind the parties to the conflict of their obligation to take all possible precautions to protect civilians, and health-care personnel and facilities."

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan met with the head of the NTC Mustafa Abdel Jalil on Friday, following similar meetings on Thursday with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France.

"Colonel Gaddafi said he would hunt you down like rats," Cameron told a cheering crowd in Benghazi on his visit. "But you showed the courage of lions and we salute your courage. Now just as your courage has written the last chapter of Libyan history, so it must write the next one.”