Rebels in Bani Walid
Rebels in Bani Walid Screen Capture

Pro-Qaddafi forces continue to turn back fighters for Libya's interim rebel government at the loyalist strongholds of Sirte and Bani Walid.

The offensive on fugitive strongman Muammar Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte bogged down Monday on the western outskirts of the city. According to CNN at least 20 rebels were killed and another 31 wounded in block-by-block fighting.

"The injured revolutionaries in Sirte have all been hit with RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) fired from areas congested with civilians where Qaddafi loyalists are hiding," NTC spokesman Adel Ghulaek told CNN.

"Our men are not even firing back because they do not want to kill any innocent people. Two helicopters evacuated the injured fighters last night," he added.

Rebel forces at Sirte reportedly number six thousand, but the number of defenders in the town remains a subject of speculation. One common assumption, however, is that they are heavily armed veteran troops who may have brigade strength.

Meanwhile, fighters under the command of the interim government at Bani Walid massed outside the town for a third time in eight days to regroup and reinforce before launching a third assault.

That move has, according to reports, left several piecemeal bands of undisciplined tribal fighters who continue to mount haphazard raids into the spread out villages of the oasis, where defending snipers sit atop 100-foot-high escarpments commanding all approaches.

According to agencies, fighters in small groups of pickup trucks charge in to the Wadi Zatoun, an established kill zone, only to retreat a short while later with casualties.

One fighter described such an assault to Al Jazeera, "We entered the city, 600 meters from the city center, but we didn't have enough forces so we lost the position and had to retreat."

Dislodging Qaddafi loyalists from the coastal plain, where the revolution has its primary strength, has proven more difficult than the fragile rebel government had hoped and may drag out for weeks, if not months.

But in Libya's desolate south, much of which remains loyal to Qaddafi, a third stronghold looms ominously on the rebel government's horizon. The Qaddafi stronghold of Sebha, said to be well-manned, well-stocked, and intractable remains untouched and ready to fight.