August 28, 2011 / 10:59 AM / in 7 years

CORRECTED-UPDATE 1-Libya rebels: Sirte will fall within 10 days

* Rebels in Ben Jawad, 100 km east of Sirte

* Fighting needed if negotiations fail

* Sirte seen as last Gaddafi stronghold along coast (Corrects to show rebels predict it will take no more than 10 days for fall of Sirte, instead of more than 10 days)

By Robert Birsel

BENGHAZI, Libya, Aug 28 (Reuters) - It will take Libyan rebels no more than 10 days to take control of Sirte, Muammar Gaddafi’s home town and last major stronghold along the Mediterranean coast, a rebel commander told Reuters on Sunday.

Rebel troops have advanced to within 100 km (60 miles) of Sirte from the east and are also approaching from Misrata in the west, and will fight for Sirte if negotiations now under way on handing them control of the town fail, he said.

“Our aim isn’t bloodshed, our aim is liberation,” Colonel Salem Muftah al-Refaidy told Reuters during a visit to Benghazi. “We don’t want more bloodshed, especially among the civilians — children, elderly, women.”

Asked how long it would be until rebels took the city, he said: “At most 10 days, maybe less”.

Observers are concerned the fight for Sirte could be bloodier than the struggle for Tripoli, where corpses were still rotting in the streets after rebels streamed in last week.

Sirte is believed to hold large numbers of die-hard Gaddafi supporters and significant military installations. NATO has said Gaddafi’s army has fired several Scud missiles from the town, but all are believed to have fallen far from their targets.

Rebel spokesman Mohammad Zawawi said his fighters now occupied the town of Ben Jawad, about 100 km from Sirte, and were waiting there for negotiations to be completed.

He said talks over the surrender of Gaddafi supporters in Sirte were continuing but with little sign of progress.

“We’re still waiting for them to stop fighting and open their city,” Zawawi said. “We’ve had no result yet.”

He did not say how long the rebels would wait.

Rebel forces see Sirte as their last obstacle to controlling Libya’s Mediterranean coast, where most of the country’s 6 million people live.

After Sirte, the rebels say they will turn to Gaddafi’s Sabha stronghold in the desert south.

A rebel government spokesman said on Sunday the rebel authorities did not know where Gaddafi was hiding. (Reporting by Robert Birsel; writing by Richard Valdmanis; editing by Andrew Heavens)

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