Anti-Qaddafi Fighters Face Stiff Resistance in Sirte

SURT, Libya — From the windows of an apartment overlooking this seaside town, a commander peered through binoculars and yelled orders into a walkie-talkie, directing fire at a white building in the distance flying Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s green flag.


The commander, who called himself Rake, said he was helping to coordinate a multipronged attack on the colonel’s loyalists, who still control a large swath of central Surt weeks after the anti-Qaddafi fighters launched an attack to capture the town.

Somewhere on the ground below, his colleagues — called Rambo, Black Crow and Gorilla — followed his instructions, firing mortars and a recoilless rifle toward a target that they could not see. “Shell, Rambo, shell!” Rake barked. But the round missed. “One hundred meters to the right, and a bit higher,” Rake ordered.

The view from the commander’s window offered a glimpse of the challenge still facing the anti-Qaddafi fighters, who are desperate to claim control of Surt, declare the Libyan war over and start forming a new government.

Standing in the way of that goal, the Qaddafi troops still control miles of territory inside the city, including tall structures — apartment blocks, hotels and administrative buildings — that offer comfortable nests for the loyalist snipers and dense urban cover for their artillery teams.

For several miles, from the anti-Qaddafi fighters’ positions to the sea, buildings like the sprawling apartment blocks known as the 1,000 dominate the landscape. On Monday, they preoccupied the former rebels, who had spent days trying to capture difficult ground, only to find themselves confronted with a daunting new challenge.

The fighting poses a continuing risk to an unknown number of civilians still in the city. At least a fifth of the city’s 100,000 residents are thought to have fled, according to aid workers. On Monday, a team from the International Committee of the Red Cross tried to evacuate about 100 patients from the Ibn Sina hospital, but the organization was having trouble finding Libyan hospitals that could take the patients, according to Dibeh Fakhr, a spokeswoman.

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