LIBYAN rebels loyal to the National Transitional Council (NTC) are struggling to regroup outside Bani Walid after being driven back by fierce resistance from followers of Muammar Gaddafi.
There were no signs of anti-Gaddafi forces mobilising for another assault on the mountain enclave, about 140km southeast of Tripoli.
The NTC fighters withdrew after facing sniper fire and shelling from pro-Gaddafi units holding strategic positions above the valley entrance to the town.
Meanwhile, more families fled Bani Walid.
The fighting coincided with another NTC offensive into Gaddafi’s hometown Sirte on the Mediterranean coast, where there were stiff counterattacks by backers of the old regime.
Dubai-based broadcaster al-Arabiya said Gaddafi supporters were still holding out in Sirte and there was no sign yet of a rapid end to a siege which has been dragging on for weeks.
TNC forces seized the airport on the outskirts of Sirte and moved towards the centre of the city.
Gaddafi’s troops were stationed between houses and dozens of snipers were positioned on the roofs, according to rebel fighters quoted by al-Arabiya.
Gaddafi’s spokesman Moussa Ibrahim was prompt in praising the setback their forces had inflicted on the rebels.
“We gathered arms and equipment in preparation for a long war,” he told Syria-based Al-Rai television.
“The battle is far from over,” Ibrahim continued.
“We assure everybody that the Sirte and Bani Walid fronts are strong, despite the heavy, unbelievable and merciless NATO bombardment on hospitals, families and schools.”
Gaddafi has not been seen in public since the rebels captured Tripoli in August, although his spokesman has repeatedly claimed that he is still in Libya.