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NTC forces enter outskirts of Sirte, Qaddafi's hometown

Anti-Qaddafi fighters now control the entrances to Sirte city' and are beginning 'the process of combing', says statement.

BENGHAZI // The forces of Libya's new leadership have entered the outskirts of Sirte, Muammar Qaddafi's hometown.

"Misrata's thwar [fighters] arrived at the Al Gharbiyat Bridge inside Sirte," the Misrata Military Council said in a statement.

The assault on Sirte was made by battle-hardened fighters, who had set off in a 900-vehicle convoy from Misrata early yesterday before splitting at the crossroads town of Abu Qurin to form a pincer movement.

"Our revolutionaries have entered Sirte today on three main axes," the military council statement said, adding later that they had reached the city centre.

The later statement said Misrata fighters now controlled "the entrances to Sirte city" and were beginning "the process of combing".

A spokesman for the convoy confirmed that the pro-NTC troops had entered Sirte. "I confirm our forces are in Sirte, it is a big force," said Fathi Bashaga.

"There is still resistance but our fighters will be able to overcome it," the spokesman told an AFP correspondent in Wadi Bey, a desert town where part of the Sirte-bound convoy was held up in a battle with Qaddafi loyalists.

"They are attacking us with 40 and 43-mm mortars and all kinds of weapons."

The military said Misrata hospital had so far received "one martyr and five wounded" from the fight in Sirte, based on initial reports.

Dr Ibrahim Garta said there were 20 NTC wounded and one dead.

Pro-NTC forces had earlier raised their flag on the outskirts of Sirte, the military said.

"Misrata's thwar at a distance of 3 km from the Sirte - Independence flag flying over the last petrol station before the city," the Military Council said in an English statement, referring to the new regime's forces.

Fawzy Sawawy, head of the Mountains Brigade, told AFP: "We are turning the tables on Qaddafi. We were attacked in Misrata on three fronts, and now we're going to attack Sirte on three fronts."

Their task appeared to have been made easier by NATO air strikes.

Nato said that on Wednesday it had struck a command and control node, a military vehicle storage facility, four radar systems and two surface-to-air missile systems in the Sirte area.

Around 15 per cent of Colonel Qaddafi's forces are still operational, the alliance said.

General Vincent Tesniere said in a teleconference from Italy that Colonel Qaddafi's remaining forces were concentrated in a zone stretching from Tripoli to Sabha in the south and to Sirte.

The British prime minister, David Cameron, who was visiting Libya yesyerday with the French president, Nicholas, Sarkozy, said Nato would continue its UN-mandated air operations until Colonel Qaddafi's remaining redoubts are neutralised.

The Egyptian foreign minister, Mohammed Kamel Amr, also arrived in Tripoli yesterday, an official in the Libyan capital said. He said Mr Amr met the NTC number two, Mahmud Jibril, and other officials.

Tthe foreign ministry in Cairo said it was the first visit by an Arab official since the "victory" of the Libyan revolution.