- NEW: NATO strikes Gadhafi loyalists’ military hardware including a tank
- The new authorities patrol around Sirte to make sure supplies can’t get in
- National Transitional Council fighters ask: “Where are you, NATO?”
- Fighters regroup outside of Bani Walid after encountering resistance
Waddan, Libya — Libyan fighters trying to stamp out the last pockets of Moammar Gadhafi loyalists worked to isolate his hometown Sunday, a day after hold-outs repelled an effort by the new authorities to dislodge them from another town.
National Transition Council troops are patrolling areas south of the city of Sirte to try to cut off supplies of pro-Gadhafi forces still controlling his birthplace.
They’re sweeping areas and towns south of Sirte to make sure other pro-Gadhafi towns are not able to relieve it.
The new authorities arrested eight or nine men manning a pro-Gadhafi post, but are not finding significant numbers of fighters still loyal to the old regime.
Sirte remains firmly in loyalist hands, and the tribal leaders have refused to surrender the town to the National Transitional Council.
NATO continues to strike military hardware held by Gadhafi loyalists. On Saturday it hit anti-aircraft guns, a tank, armed vehicles and other targets near Sirte, Waddan, Sebha and Bani Walid, it announced Sunday.
CNN journalists near Bani Walid heard NATO jets overhead on Sunday afternoon local time.
NTC fighters were regrouping outside Bani Walid Sunday, preparing for another assault after encountering stiff resistance from troops still loyal to the ousted Libyan leader.
Fighting raged there Saturday after negotiators failed to work out a deal to surrender the city of Bani Walid, southeast of Tripoli.
National Transitional Council forces don’t know how many Gadhafi loyalists are in the stronghold, though they believe they are heavily armed, Abdulrahman Busin, an NTC spokesman, told CNN. Two of Gadhafi’s sons — Saif al-Islam and Mutassim — have been previously reported to be in the town.
The intense fighting forced some National Transitional Council troops to withdraw, and left one calling for NATO warplanes to clear the way for them into the city.
“Where are you, NATO?,” shouted one fighter as one of the cars carrying NTC forces was forced to turn back.
NATO confirmed its aircraft were operating Saturday near Bani Walid, though it would not confirm whether warplanes were targeting loyalists in the city.
“We do not coordinate attacks with the NTC. If they pull back — as a military person — that would make sense in terms of soldiering,” the office of Col. Roland Lavoie, a NATO spokesman, told CNN.
The NTC said it wanted to negotiate the surrender to prevent further bloodshed and destruction, though critics believe talks would give Gadhafi’s fighters more time to entrench themselves within the town.
Sticking points in the negotiation included the demand by Gadhafi loyalists for blanket pardons, NTC fighters to enter their communities unarmed, and to refrain from searching houses, the NTC said.
Bani Walid is one of the three cities in Libya that remain in the hands of Gadhafi loyalists.
Opposition fighters were working to surround the loyalist stronghold of Sabha, some 400 miles south of Sirte. It is located on a main artery to Algeria, Chad and Niger, which have been friendly with the Gadhafi regime.
The renewed fighting comes as Libya’s interim leader and head of the National Transition Council Mustafa Abdel Jalil returned Saturday to Tripoli for the first time since the fall of Gadhafi’s regime.
Jalil was formerly Gadhafi’s minister of justice before defecting to join the opposition in February.