WISHTATA, Libya – Libyan fighters launched a two-pronged assault Friday on one of the last towns to resist the country’s new rulers, clashing with Moammar Gadhafi’s supporters inside Bani Walid as a weeklong standoff dissolved into street-to-street battles, the revolutionary forces said.
Libya’s new rulers had set today as the deadline for Gadhafi loyalists in Bani Walid to surrender or face an offensive but decided to attack Friday evening after Gadhafi forces fired volleys of rockets at the fighters’ positions around the town.
Abdullah Kenshil, the former rebels’ chief negotiator, said the former rebels were fighting gunmen positioned in houses in the town and the hills that overlooked it.
Anti-Gadhafi forces were moving in from the east and south, and the fighters deepest inside Bani Walid were clashing with Gadhafi’s men about a mile from the center of the town, Kenshil said.
Revolutionary forces also battled loyalists to the east of the Gadhafi stronghold of Sirte on the Mediterranean coast, but were forced to pull back after taking heavy casualties in close-quarters fighting, a spokesman said.
Before the reported Friday evening assault on Bani Walid, Gadhafi holdouts in the city fired mortars and rockets toward the fighters’ position in a desert dotted with green shrubs and white rocks, killing at least one and wounding several. Loud explosions were heard about six miles from the front line, followed by plumes of black smoke in the already hazy air. NATO planes circled above.