x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Libya's new rulers claim control of key desert city of Sabha

As Nato extends its mandate in Libya, revolutionaries secure another victory by forcing back Qaddafi loyalists in southern city.

NTC fighters hang from the barrel of a tank in Wadi Dinar yesterday after NTC leadership claimed to have repelled pro-Qaddafi forces in the oasis city of Sabah.
NTC fighters hang from the barrel of a tank in Wadi Dinar yesterday after NTC leadership claimed to have repelled pro-Qaddafi forces in the oasis city of Sabah.

BENGHAZI // Libya's new rulers yesterday declared victory in the battle for the southern city of Sabha, one of the last bastions of support for Colonel Muammar Qaddafi.

Officials of the interim ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) said there were only small pockets of resistance in Sabha, Libya's largest desert city and home to an important military base.

The United States prepared to raise the American flag over its embassy in Tripoli today, after Barack Obama, the US president, met Libya's new leader in New York and pledged support for Libya as it consolidated its freedom.

Abdelmajid Seif Ennasr, who represents the NTC in Sabha, said: "We are in complete control of the city of Sabha."

Everybody in the city, including those who were pro-Qaddafi, were now with the revolution", even though NTC fighters were encountering "resistance from some individuals here and there", he said.

Mohammed Wardugu, the Benghazi spokesman of the "Desert Shield Brigade" fighting in the region, said: "Sabha is totally under the control of the revolutionaries."

The battle for Sabha, a city of 100,000 people in an area dominated by Col Qaddafi's clan, first broke out on June 12 after two days of anti-regime protests in the sprawling oasis.

Nato, whose air strikes have been instrumental in beating back Col Qaddafi's forces, said yesterday it would extend its air campaign for another 90 days.

The organisation has agreed to continue its operation in Libya, the US ambassador to Nato, Ivo Daalder, wrote on Twitter.

The current 90-day mandate was due to expire on September 27, but Western leaders have made clear their intention to continue the mission.

At Bani Walid, a Qaddafi stronghold south-west of Sirte, doctors said two people were killed and another four wounded in fighting.

Previously, an NTC official Abdullah Kenshil reported the death of an NTC fighter in Bani Walid and said the new regime's forces were preparing for a "decisive" tank-backed battle for the town in the next 48 hours.

NTC authorities have admitted they lost three men at Sirte on Tuesday, taking the overall death toll since they moved on the city on September 15 to at least 45 NTC fighters.

Meanwhile, 16 patients, most in critical condition, were evacuated on a Qatari military plane to Malta as doctors said the region's hospitals were overwhelmed.

NTC forces have said Col Qaddafi enjoyed a broad base of support in Sirte. Despite the setbacks, the fugitive Col Qaddafi told his remaining loyalists in Libya that the new regime was only temporary, in his latest comments aired on Syrian-based Arrai television. As Libya's new rulers were feted in New York, the interim prime minister Mahmud Jibril said the country's first formal government since Col Qaddafi's removal would be announced in 7 to 10 days.

His statement came after a special summit at which Mr Obama met the NTC chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil and announced the US embassy would be reopening and the ambassador, Gene Cretz, returning for a flag-raising ceremony.