Libyan rebel spokesman says Gaddafi town seized

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – A Libyan rebel spokesman said Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte had been captured by the rebels on Monday, but no independent verification of the statement was immediately available.

A foreign journalist in Sirte, contacted by telephone by Reuters, said the city was quiet.

“It’s confirmed Sirte has fallen into pro-democracy hands,” said the rebel spokesman, Shamsiddin Abdulmolah.

He said the rebels had not faced much resistance from pro-Gaddafi forces.

Celebratory gunfire erupted and car horns sounded in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi as news of the rebel statement about Sirte spread.

The ramshackle rebel army has pushed west to retake a series of towns from pro-Gaddafi forces who are being pounded by Western air strikes.

Emboldened by the help of the air strikes, the rebels have rapidly reversed military losses in their five-week insurgency and regained control of all the main oil terminals in eastern Libya, as far as the town of Bin Jawad.

A Reuters reporter in Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown and an important military base about 150 km (90 miles) further along the coast, heard four blasts on Sunday night. It was unclear if they were in the town or its outskirts.

The reporter also saw a convoy of 20 military vehicles including truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns leaving Sirte and moving westwards toward Tripoli, along with dozens of civilian cars carrying families and stuffed with personal belongings.

The advance along Libya’s Mediterranean coast by a poorly armed and uncoordinated force of volunteer rebels suggested that Western strikes under a U.N. no-fly zone were shifting the battlefield dynamics dramatically, in the east at least.

The rebels are now back in control of the main oil terminals in the east — Es Sider, Ras Lanuf, Brega, Zueitina and Tobruk — while Gaddafi appears to be retrenching in the west.

Libyan rebel spokesman says Gaddafi town seized