Tripoli/Cairo, March 28 (DPA) Rebels were grouped near but not in control of Sirte, birthplace of embattled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, sources there said Monday, after a spokesman for the rebels claimed its capture.
State media reported that at daybreak nine explosions had rocked the Mediterranean city, some 360 km east of the capital Tripoli, as coalition forces continued air strikes in the west of the country.
Sources in Sirte and Tripoli told DPA that the city was still under the control of Gaddafi’s troops, but rebel forces were 100 km away in the town of Nofiliya.
Earlier Monday, a spokesman for the opposition National Transitional Council was quoted by broadcaster Al Jazeera as saying the rebels had Sirte and encountered no resistance when they entered the city at about 11.30 pm (2130 GMT) Sunday.
“They found it an unarmed city,” Shamsi Abdul Molah said. “They had no problem getting in there.”
Rebels have been advancing on key cities since a US-led coalition force that includes Britain and France began March 19 to take out Libyan air defences and ground forces to enforce a UN-imposed no-fly zone to protect civilians.
Coalition air strikes on Tripoli resumed overnight, state media said.
The advance on Sirte came after rebels took control of Bin Jawad, Ras Lanuf, the key oil port of al-Burayqa and the town of Uqayla. They are now in control of all oil terminals in the eastern part of the North African country.
After Sirte, which is approximately halfway between the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and Tripoli, the rebels have their sights set on Misurata. They regard this city, Libya’s third-largest, would be a gateway to Tripoli.
NATO ambassadors decided late Sunday to take over control of all UN-mandated military operations in Libya, including any air strikes aimed at protecting civilians from the embattled leader’s troops.
Turkey, NATO’s only predominantly Muslim member, is ready to act as a mediator between Gaddafi and rebel leaders to negotiate a ceasefire, the Guardian reported Sunday.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned of a lengthy conflict that could turn the country into a a “second Iraq” or “another Afghanistan”.