Libya’s new rulers say fall of Sirte will mean war’s end

The Guardian reports:

Libya’s new leaders are poised to declare the country’s “full liberation” is complete and appoint a new transitional government.

The new government will regard the war as won with the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s home town, Sirte – where there is still heavy fighting. It remains one of the last loyalist holdouts, along with Bani Walid, which remains under the control of pro-Gaddafi forces, who are besieged inside.

The declaration and the formation of a new government – with elections planned after eight months – are intended to bring an end to an increasingly dangerous political vacuum in Libya.

The interim prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, and the head of the National Transitional Council (NTC), Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, plan to step down, having pledged to take no further part in the country’s future government. The NTC constitution specifies that no temporary government figures should serve in any future elected Libyan government.

The latest attempts to bring about an end to the developing political crisis in Libya comes as military leaders described the latest push on Sirte, which began on Monday after a two-day truce, as the “final assault”.

Reuters reports on conditions inside Sirte and the residents’ fears of a protracted fight.

Fleeing besieged Sirte, Ali Durgham couldn’t stop the tears as he described how his father had been killed by a stray shell as he walked to the mosque with his brother.

“He died in my arms,” Durgham said. “I buried him yesterday.”

The young man’s uncle is now in Sirte’s Ibn Sina hospital — but it, too, has been hit in the fighting, residents said.

“The hospital is being attacked with shells,” Durgham said, echoing other people leaving the city. “It’s filled with dirt. There’s only three doctors who are working with patients.”

Despite the shelling and a deeper push into the city by interim government forces ahead of what may be a final battle, he said he was determined to go back into Sirte on Wednesday to bring his uncle out.

The stories told by the people streaming out of Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown, mostly recounted at checkpoints manned by anti-Gaddafi forces, provide a grim snapshot of life inside.

“It is unimaginable back there,” Masoud Awidat, who had just driven out of the town in a car with a bullet-riddled windscreen and door, told Reuters.

“It gets worse every day. There’s no food. There are fires, apartments are destroyed.”

Terrified residents are sleeping in the streets and under stairs for fear that their roofs will fall in overnight.

People talked of two families whose cars had been hit by rocket propelled grenades as they tried to flee the city.

One man showed a piece of string holding up his trousers because he had not eaten for so long.

“These used to fit me,” he said.

A Red Cross team who managed to deliver medical supplies to Sirte’s hospital has reported that the city of about 100,000 people has no power. Civilians say many streets are flooded.

Sirte has been under attack for about three weeks, the target of a couple of all-out assaults and near-constant shelling by interim government forces and NATO air strikes.

Pro-Gaddafi fighters inside are putting up fierce resistance and, NATO and some civilians say, forcibly recruiting locals to fight alongside them and preventing people from getting out.

“We reached the outskirts of the city but the militia stopped us from leaving,” Awidat said of a previous attempt he made to leave. He managed to slip out on Tuesday morning.

“Where we live there are still families trapped,” he said.

Sirte presents a conundrum for the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) and for NATO, whose mandate in Libya is to protect of civilians.

The NTC must strike a balance between a prolonged fight that would delay their efforts to govern and a quicker but bloody victory that would worsen regional divisions and embarrass the fledgling government and its foreign backers.

Some civilians say pro-Gaddafi fighters are hiding in residential areas, raising fears of vicious street battles ahead.

“Sirte is not going to be like Tripoli,” said NTC medic Mashallah Al-Zoy, referring to the relatively easy manner in which anti-Gaddafi fighters swept into the capital.

“It will be street-to-street, house-to-house, like (Gaddafi) said.”

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