Conflict & Justice

Libya: Victory eludes rebels in heavy weekend fighting (VIDEO)

SIRTE, Libya — Despite repeated offensives, the quest to liberate Libya from loyalists of Muammar Gaddafi continues to elude rebel fighters this weekend.

On Sunday, rebels launched a particularly chaotic strike against Bani Walid, Reuters reports. Initially intending to strike with tanks and pickup trucks, many infantry ignored orders and charged ahead, leaving them exposed at the front lines. Under heavy fire, the rebels were forced to abandon their positions and retreat.

"Sunday's failed attempt appeared to be among the worst yet, setting off angry recriminations among the attackers," the agency wrote. 

Nato forces and rebels also attacked Sirte, former ruler Muammar Gaddafi's hometown. Fighting had intensified there Saturday, as rebel forces from Misrata pushed forward from the East and South. They gained little ground, but took heavy casualties. On Dubai Street close to the center of the city, several buildings smoldered as heavy fire was exchanged.

The thick smoke that filled the air was pierced by flying bullets. The sound was deafening as rocket propelled grenades and large artillery flew overhead.

More from GlobalPost: Rebels push into Sirte (Video)

Rebels on foot rushed into the main street to return fire with machine guns and RPG's as vehicles sped back and forth firing heavy weapons at snipers scattered across the inner city buildings.

"Right now it's difficult," said rebel fighter Najeep Aljero as the telltale wiz of close range bullets interrupted the conversation sending all fleeing for cover. Ducking behind a concrete fence he continued, "The fighters have no idea about the layout of the city. We are all from Misrata. No one knows the routes or buildings."

Fighting alongside Najeep, his uncle Mamoud Aljero agreed.

"Since 10 years I haven't been to this city," he said. "We have no business here. We only came for one reason — to out Gaddafi!"

At the field hospital, the scene was chaotic with 37 injured and at least 17 dead.

Rockets were raining in close by as doctors rushed to find space for new arrivals. Ambulance drivers said many more patients were en route and numbers were expected to climb overnight. Three foreign reporters were among the injured.

The intensity of the resistance displayed the resolve of Gaddafi loyalists to continue their fight against the new Libyan government and showed the firepower still at their disposal.

As an RPG struck a palm tree above raining branches and dates down on the men below, front line commander Ahmed Altanshe described the resistance in Sirte as "10 times" what they faced when they entered Tripoli. Altanshe said this prompted the question of whether or not Gaddafi himself may have taken refuge in his hometown.

Amid the smoke, noise and confusion on Dubai Street, a folk song began to play in the distance. Najeeb explained that since the power was cut in the city, loud speakers sometimes play pro-Gaddafi songs and messages to Sirte residents.

A new message sounded calling all residents to "use any weapons you can to kill the rats invading this city."
Prominent rebel fighter Lutfy Alamin said all the residents they had encountered in area 7 were armed.

"With the families we just took their weapons and let them go," he said. "It's very dangerous here because the majority of the residents still support Gaddafi."

With no power and no outside contact, some residents inside Sirte are unaware that Tripoli fell to the rebels last month. Many fled the area as the rebels advanced, but others remain trapped in their homes.

On Friday, Altanshe and his men managed to free three families trapped within thei homes because of the crossfire of the two sides. By Saturday the same area appeared to be empty of civilians.

"We pushed them back another 2 kilometers (1 mile) today," Altanshe said. "Tomorrow we will push them back further. We think that either tomorrow or the day after we will have freed all Sirte."

While a pink sun set on the horizon, a lone tumbleweed peacefully rolled down the rubble-strewn street as rockets pierced the skyline above. Fighters raced back to the main front line on foot between the cover of buildings after an attempt to close in on enemy lines.

"There are too many snipers inside," said Altanshe.

In the approaching darkness, cluster bombs and 23mm bullets began raining down. Without the luxury of night vision equipment that the enemy have at their disposal, the men began their nightly retreat. Foot soldiers rushed to nearby vehicles and the convoy speed back towards their camps.

Commanders say they will return again at dawn to continue the fight.