Gadhafi Loyalists Hit Back in Sirte

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Libya's new regime fighters retreated under heavy fire from loyalists of Moammar Gadhafi in his hometown of Sirte on Thursday as their leaders backtracked on an announcement they had captured one of his sons.

The advancing fighters, who had been hoping to mop up the last pockets of resistance in two residential neighborhoods in the northwest of the city, withdrew at least two kilometers to the central police headquarters they had captured on Tuesday, an Agence France Presse correspondent reported.

"We have been told to retreat to the police HQ and will be using artillery cannon to hit Gadhafi's forces," fighter Hamid Neji of the Martys of Free Libya Brigade told AFP on the new front line.

Before the reverse, a field commander of the brigade had told AFP that its fighters were trying to avoid using heavy weaponry against the Dollar and Number Two residential neighborhoods to avoid civilian casualties.

"We are not going very aggressively into these neighborhoods because there are still families inside them," commander Yahya al-Moghasabi said.

"The fighting has narrowed down to these two neighborhoods," he had added. "We believe it will take another three days to capture them."

Sirte is a key goal for Libya's new leaders who have said they will not proclaim the country's liberation and begin preparing for the transition to an elected government until the city has fallen.

The new regime began its siege of Sirte on September 15 before launching what it termed a "final assault" last Friday that has seen at least 91 of its troops killed and hundreds wounded, according to medics.

The city's main square and waterfront are under the control of new regime fighters, along with its showpiece conference center, university campus and hospital.

But they have faced unexpectedly stiff resistance in the west of the city despite controlling the whole of the east.

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