Latest Breaking News: The inability to take Sirte, the most important remaining stronghold of Gadhafi supporters, more than six weeks after anti-Gadhafi fighters seized the capital has stalled efforts by Libya’s new leaders to set a timeline for elections and move forward with a transition to democracy.
Gadhafi supporters also hold the inland enclave of Bani Walid, where revolutionary forces have been stymied by challenging terrain.
But the transitional leadership has said it will declare liberation after Sirte’s capture because that will mean it holds all of the seaports and harbors in the oil-rich Mediterranean coastal country.
Libya’s de facto leader, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the governing National Transitional Council, said Sunday that anti-Gadhafi fighters have made huge gains in Sirte and Bani Walid, southeast of the capital.
”I do believe, God willing, that the liberation of these cities will happen within this week,” Abdul-Jalil told reporters in Tripoli.
He said that revolutionary forces are advancing on Bani Walid from five sides, while Libyan fighters in Sirte have punched their way into the city center in fierce fighting and are now cleaning out pockets of resistance.
Located 250 miles (400 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli, Sirte is key to the physical unity of the nation of some 6 million people, since it lies roughly in the center of the coastal plain where most Libyans live, blocking the easiest routes between east and west.
After a three-week siege from the outskirts, revolutionary forces launched an all-out assault on Sirte on Friday, pounding the city with tank shells, field cannons, rockets and heavy machine guns.
Loyalists have put up fierce resistance, and fired back with sniper rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. / Agencies