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Humanitarian fears grow over Sirte battle; Libyan forces advance into Qaddafi stronghold

Libyan interim government forces have captured a district in Sirte after fierce battles that further raised concern about the dire humanitarian situation in Muammar Qaddafi’s besieged hometown.

Government forces who had for weeks been pinned down by artillery and rocket fire on the eastern edges of Sirte were able to advance several km (miles) into the city, capturing the southern district of Bouhadi.

A Red Cross convoy delivered oxygen and other urgently needed medical supplies to the Ibn Sina hospital on Monday after an earlier attempt was aborted because of heavy fighting.

“The situation on the ground was very tense with ongoing fighting,” Red Cross delegate Hichem Khadraoui said, according to Reuters.

“Under such conditions, we had to limit ourselves - after obtaining clearances from all the parties concerned - to bringing in the most urgently needed humanitarian aid.”

Aid agencies say they are concerned about the welfare of civilians inside Sirte, one of the last pro-Qaddafi bastions left in the country, who are trapped by the fighting and running out of food, water, fuel and medical supplies.

Concerns about the humanitarian crisis have focused on the Ibn Sina hospital. Medical workers who fled Sirte say patients were dying on the operating table because there was no oxygen and no fuel for the hospital's generators.

Medical staff outside Sirte who had treated wounded civilians fleeing the fighting said they had been told the corridors were full of patients and that treatment was being given only to pro-Gaddafi fighters or members of his tribe.

De facto PM talks to Al Arabiya

De facto Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, meanwhile, told Al Arabiya that he will fulfill his promise of relinquishing any political post once Libya is fully liberated. He called on younger Libyans to play a bigger and more active role in the country’s political life for the sake of building the post-Qaddafi Libya.

Jibril said on Monday the NTC would set in motion the process of democratic elections once Sirte was captured, instead of waiting until the whole country is under their control, Reuters reported.

Jibril told a news conference in the city of Benghazi: “Bani Walid would be dealt with as a renegade region.”

In a televised news conference earlier on Monday, NTCs chairman Mustafa Abdel-Jalil said that Jibril will head the country’s executive office and will hold the foreign portfolio.

He said that Ali Tarhouni will handle the oil portfolio temporarily and will be in-charge of the finance portfolio.

Qaddafi’s son Mutassim hiding in hospital

A military spokesman for the interim government, the National Transitional Council (NTC), told a television channel that Qaddafi’s son Mutassim was hiding in the Ibn Sina hospital.

“Our revolutionaries (in Sirte) are fighting those who are accomplices of the tyrant in crimes against the Libyan people,” Ahmed Bani told Doha-based Libya TV.

“They are a group of killers and mercenaries led by Mutassim Qaddafi who is now in the Ibn Sina hospital in Sirte to avoid being hit, according to newly received information.”

NTC forces in the east of Sirte unleashed barrages of tank, artillery and anti-aircraft fire until after sundown. NATO aircraft flew overhead.

NTC Commanders said their fighters in Sirte were waging street battles with Qaddafi supporters in a residential area situated two km (1.2 miles) from the city centre.

“We are surrounding them from all sides. We have orders to call in from all fronts and use all kinds of weapons,” said NTC fighter Saeed Hammad.

Medical workers at a field hospital near Sirte said four NTC fighters were killed and 39 others were wounded on Monday.

On the way in to Bouhadi, the streets were deserted apart from some burned-out cars and tank shell casings. Billboards which had shown images of Muammar Gaddafi were torn down.

Libyans ended Qaddafi’s 42-year rule in August when rebel fighters stormed the capital. Qaddafi and several of his sons are still at large and his supporters hold Sirte and the town of Bani Walid, south of Tripoli.

A city of about 75,000 people, Sirte holds symbolic importance. Qaddafi transformed his birthplace from a sleepy fishing town into Libya’s second capital.

At his instigation, parliament often sat in Sirte and he hosted international summits at the Ouagadougou Hall, a marble-clad conference centre he had built in the south of the city.

Qaddafi’s supporters are too weak to regain power, but their resistance is frustrating the new rulers' efforts to start building the post-Qaddafi Libya.