Fighters loyal to deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi are now holding out in just two small pockets of his home town Sirte on Wednesday, government commanders said after making gains overnight.
Fighters from the interim Libyan government's volunteer army walked slowly up the same battle-scarred streets strewn with empty ammunition cases where they had fought fierce clashes a day before. Other fighters searched the partly destroyed houses as a few dazed civilians emerged from their basements.
More than 80 percent of Sirte is now under our control. Gaddafi's men are still in parts of neighbourhood Number Two and the 'Dollar' neighbourhood, said National Transitional Council field commander Mustah Hamza.
Green flags, the banner of Gaddafi's 42 years in power, still flew above many of the buildings, but all appeared quiet.
NTC fighters maneuvered a tank into a small side street flooded with sewage from a burst pipe. It fired a few rounds at a large building up ahead, then infantrymen moved in, letting off bursts from their AK-47s as they advanced up the street.
At first, there was very little return fire from the pro-Gaddafi side. But the government fighters had walked into an ambush. Hit by a hail of RPG and small arms fire, the NTC men scrambled back to safety, one nursing a wound to his hand.
TWO MORE DAYS
The NTC has said it will start the process of rebuilding Libya as a democracy only after the capture of Sirte, a former fishing village transformed by Gaddafi's largesse into a showpiece for his rule replete with lavish conference halls and hotels.
NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil said on a visit to Sirte on Tuesday that it would take two more days to take the town, which was the last major holdout for Gaddafi loyalists. Gaddafi himself is believed to be hiding somewhere far to the south in the vast Libyan desert.
But the remnants of Gaddafi's forces, surrounded on three sides in Sirte and with their backs to the sea, have so far fought tenaciously, perhaps believing they face mistreatment or worse at the hands of their ill-disciplined foe.
Back from the front line, fighters from the National Transitional Council jostled with one another as one man tried to punch a wounded prisoner and others struggled to keep him off. The prisoner repeatedly shouted out that he was a civilian.
But you had a gun, his captors said.
I never used it, he said, fear in his eyes.
Any male of fighting age still in Sirte was under suspicion.
We were staying in a basement, one man, Gamal Ammar, said alongside family members. Some of us were hit. If we had died it would have been better. We had no water and no food. We couldn't get out. As NTC fighters drew near, he fell silent.
One man held up a passport and said: I am Sudanese and I was not fighting. He was put in plastic cuffs and led away.
Gaddafi recruited large numbers of black Africans to his forces, but NTC fighters often accuse every black man, including migrant workers, of having fought for the former leader.
Four other men being taken away on the back of a pick-up truck said they were from Chad and also denied taking part in the conflict.
NTC fighters pushed back reporters trying to talk to them. They are liars, we found guns with them, one said.