Sirte (Libya): Anti-Gaddafi fighters launched a fresh assault today against the ousted strongman's remaining holdouts, now pinned into a small corner of his hometown Sirte.

The fighting was concentrated in the outer streets of Sirte's Number Two neighbourhood, with both sides trading heavy gunfire and bombarding each other with mortar shells.

Ali al-Rikabi, field commander of the National Transitional Council (NTC), Libya's new rulers, said fighting was raging in "four or five streets of the neighbourhood."

"It is intense and we have exchanges of gunfire," he said, as one reporter saw wounded NTC fighters being hurried out towards a field hospital.

There was no immediate information on a latest toll but medics said at least 11 NTC fighters were killed and 95 wounded yesterday alone in the battle to subdue the last pockets of support for Muammar Gaddafi in Sirte.

Dozens of vehicles massed early afternoon in the west of Number Two district, ready to follow a bulldozer and a tank deeper into the district.
According to Essam Baghhar, a field commander of the NTC's Zintan Brigade, only Number Two neighbourhood in the Mediterranean city was still being held by Gaddafi's forces
after NTC fighters overran the adjoining Dollar district late on Tuesday.

"The Dollar neighbourhood was liberated last night and now the fight is in Number Two neighbourhood," Baghhar said.

He added that loyalist forces had been pushed into an area of Number Two neighbourhood less than one square kilometre in size.

"We have captured many snipers in the past two days, including two women snipers," Baghhar said.

One fighter, who gave his name only as Walid, said NTC forces had captured a weapons store of the pro-Gaddafi fighters.

"This will drain them of their supplies of arms and ammunition," he said. "The fighting is still intense. It is in a small area but it is intense."

Among those killed on Tuesday was Mustafa bin Dardef, a popular field commander with the Zintan Brigade, who was hit by a mortar round. A businessman in Benghazi before he joined
the uprising, he leaves a son and four daughters.

Gaddafi was toppled in August when NTC fighters overran his headquarters in the capital Tripoli. He has since gone into hiding, with some NTC officials believing he could be in Sirte, making a last stand. However, most believe he is hiding out in Libya's vast southern deserts.

NTC leaders have said that once Sirte is fully under their control they will declare Libya freed of Gaddafi's 42- year autocratic rule and set about forming an interim authority ahead of elections.

In the desert oasis of Bani Walid, 170 kilometres southeast of Tripoli, the red, black and green flag of the new government was raised after the only other remaining holdout
was captured on Monday.

NTC forces on Tuesday paraded through the streets in armed pick-up trucks and filled the central square, shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest) and letting off deafening
bursts of celebratory machine-gun fire.

"I've never felt as free as I do now. It feels like all of Libya is free, and all Libyans are my brothers," said Ali Asaghar, 30, as he fired his assault rifle into the air.

"The blood of the martyrs will never go away," chanted a group of fighters nearby.

NATO said it was not yet ready to end to its mission over Libya despite the advances made by NTC forces.

"It is premature to set a timetable now," NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero said in Brussels.  "We are very close to the end, but there are still threats to the civilian population."

In its latest operational update, covering the activities of its forces yesterday, NATO reported no air strikes at all in Libya.

(Agencies)