- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 4, 2011

SIRTE, Libya — Libyan revolutionary forces fired rockets into the western half of Moammar Gadhafi’s hometown Tuesday even as hundreds of residents streamed out of the city to flee the fighting.

Anti-Gadhafi fighters launched their offensive against Sirte last month, but have faced fierce resistance from regime loyalists holed up inside. The battle for the city has become the focal point of efforts to rout die-hard supporters of Gadhafi, whose whereabouts remains unknown more than six weeks since Tripoli’s fall.

Nouri al-Naari, a doctor at a field hospital in a mosque on Sirte’s outskirts, said that two anti-Gadhafi fighters had been killed and 28 wounded in intense battles in Sirte on Monday.

Amid concerns about a humanitarian crisis, the International Committee of the Red Cross said its staff had crossed the front lines and delivered urgently needed oxygen and other medical supplies to the hospital in Sirte on Monday. They also evacuated a Dutch nurse who had been working there.

Aid workers also are providing food and other items for thousands of people who have fled Sirte.

Libya’s de facto Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril said Monday that Sirte, some 250 miles (400 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast, must be seized before the transitional leadership can declare victory and set a timeline in motion for elections for a formal government. Fighting also continues in the town of Bani Walid and in pockets in the south, but Jibril said Sirte’s capture would mean the main entry ports to the country were secure.

He and the head of the National Transitional Council, which is governing the country, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil have pledged not to take part in any future government.

Revolutionary forces have seized Tripoli and much of the rest of the country, but they have been locked in a standoff over Sirte and Bani Walid for weeks. NATO also continues to hit the loyalist strongholds with airstrikes.

Tayib Oraibi, a field commander from Tripoli, said the main obstacle facing the fighters now in Sirte is the Ouagadougou conference center, which is the main base for Gadhafi loyalists inside the city.

On Monday, revolutionary forces said they had seized the village of Abu Hadi south of Sirte — a strategically important victory because it cuts off a key supply route for Gadhafi forces, according to Salah Mohammed, another field commander from the nearby city of Misrata.

Families, meanwhile, streamed out of the city in cars packed with mattresses and other household items.

Fatima Gadhafi, 35, described rapidly deteriorating living conditions as she fled with her four children after her cousin’s daughter died when a tank shell fell on the house. She said there’s very little food or drinking water.

She said there were no army forces or checkpoints on the streets and revolutionary forces had refused to let them talk to the Red Cross.

The Geneva-based ICRC and its Libyan counterpart have stepped up efforts to help the thousands of people trying to escape as well as those trapped in the city.

The ICRC delivered 50 oxygen cylinders and other medical supplies for the hospital to medical staff and representatives of civil society in Sirte on Monday.

“The situation on the ground was very tense with ongoing fighting,” Hichem Khadraoui, the ICRC delegate in charge of the operation, said in a statement.

“Under such conditions, we had to limit ourselves — after obtaining clearances from all the parties concerned — to bringing in the most urgently needed humanitarian aid without further assessing needs. We hope to return soon,” he added.

Efforts to get Libya’s oil industry back on its feet also continued.

British company Heritage Oil PLC said Tuesday that it has acquired a controlling interest in a Libyan company licensed to provide oil field services including offshore and land-based drilling.

Heritage said it paid $19.5 million for a 51 percent stake in Sahara Oil Services Holdings Ltd. Heritage said the acquisition will allow it to play a significant role in Libya’s oil and gas industry.

Sahara Oil Services was established in 2009 and is based in the eastern city of Benghazi, the birthplace of the anti-Gadhafi uprising that began in mid-February.

Heritage established a base in Benghazi this year and has been dealing with senior members of the National Transitional Council, the company said.

Associated Press writer Robert Barr in London contributed to this report.

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