(Adds details, quotes from Sirte front, air corridors opened)
* NTC forces say Gaddafi forces in Sirte surrounded in small
* Libya, NATO open air corridors for civilian flights
By Rania El Gamal and Tim Gaynor
SIRTE, Libya, Oct 13 Fighters loyal to Muammar
Gaddafi fought a last-ditch battle in an ever shrinking pocket
of resistance in the ousted leader's hometown Sirte on Thursday.
National Transitional Council (NTC) commanders moved up
tanks to fire at buildings from close range to try to dislodge
the remaining Gaddafi snipers who are now surrounded on all
sides in one small part of the city.
"We have control of the whole of the city except
neighbourhood 'Number Two' where the Gaddafi forces are
surrounded," said Khaled Alteir, a field commander in Sirte.
"This operation is on its dying breath," said another
commander, Colonel Mohammad Aghfeer.
The siege of Sirte, which began after the capital Tripoli
fell to the NTC two months ago, has held up Libya's transition
to normality as the country's new leaders say they will only
start building a democratic system after the city is captured.
Efforts to extinguish resistance in Sirte received a big
boost on Wednesday when, NTC officials said, government forces
captured Gaddafi's son Mo'tassim, a former national security
adviser, as he tried to escape the battle-torn city.
"He was arrested today in Sirte," the head of the Tripoli
Revolutionary Council, Colonel Abdullah Naker, told Reuters.
Other NTC officials in Benghazi confirmed Mo'tassim had been
captured and said he was taken to a military base in the eastern
city, but the council has yet to make an official confirmation,
or denial of the reports.
Mo'tassim would be the first member of the Gaddafi family to
fall into the hands of the new government that emerged after six
months of civil war. Gaddafi himself is believed to be hiding
somewhere in Libya's vast desert in the south of the country.
Die-hard loyalists to the deposed leader have not given up
the fight, answering NTC attacks in Sirte with small arms fire
and rocket-propelled grenades. An NTC commander said Gaddafi's
besieged forces were no longer using heavier weapons.
Green flags, the banner of Gaddafi's 42-year rule, still fly
above many of the buildings in Sirte, but the commander said,
the defending forces appeared to have lost their cohesion.
"We've noticed now they are fighting every man for himself,"
said Baloun Al Sharie, a field commander. "We tried to tell them
it's enough and to give themselves up, but they would not."
CIVILIAN FLIGHTS TO RESUME
NTC officers say Gaddafi loyalists fear reprisals if they
give themselves up.
Some captured fighters have been roughed up by NTC forces
and Amnesty International issued a report on Wednesday saying
Libya's new rulers were in danger of repeating human rights
abuses commonplace during Muammar Gaddafi's rule. The NTC said
it would look into the report.
Close to the centre of the fighting in Sirte, government
forces found 25 corpses wrapped in plastic sheets. They accused
Gaddafi militias of carrying out execution-style killings. Five
corpses shown to a Reuters team wore civilian clothes, had their
hands tied behind their backs and gunshot wounds to the head.
As the tanks pounded the apartment blocks where Gaddafi's
men are holed up, pick-up trucks mounted with heavy machine guns
moved in behind, then infantry armed with AK-47s began their
One field hospital received two NTC dead and 23 wounded on
Thursday. One of the dead men had been hit while taking food up
to the fighters on the front line, doctors said.
In the skies, NATO aircraft have been carrying out
reconnaissance missions and Britain said its jets had bombed and
destroyed two pick-up trucks belonging to Gaddafi's forces in
Sirte on Wednesday.
But as the battle for Libya draws towards what the NTC and
NATO hope will be a close, both the new government and the
Western alliance which helped topple Gaddafi are looking towards
a return to normality.
The provisional Libyan government and NATO signed an
agreement on Thursday to immediately open air corridors for
international civilian flights from Benghazi, and domestic
flights between the second city and Tripoli and Misrata.
This is one of the first step toward NATO lifting its no-fly
zone over Libya imposed after Gaddafi began a military assault
on civilians protesting his one-man rule.
German Economy Minister Philipp Roesler said 150 wounded
Libyans would be treated in Germany. Berlin plans to support
Libya with medical supplies and aid and help in training and
educating young Libyans, he said
"We are here because we see the most important raw material
of Libya, it is not oil and gas...(it is) the younger people who
started the revolution here. They need future and perspective
after their victory," Roesler told a news conference in Tripoli.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Seif, Yasmine Saleh and Barry
Malone in Tripoli; Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Giles
Elgood and Andrew Heavens)