Muammar Qaddafi
Muammar Qaddafi Official Photo

Libya's fugitive strongman Muammar Qaddafi continued to taunt the country's interim rebel leaders as loyalist snipers stopped dead a push by rebel fighters into Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte.

Qaddafi appealed for Libyan's to launch a massive civil disobedience campaign against the new leaders in an audio recording broadcast Thursday on Syrian-based Al-Rai TV, which has become the mouthpiece of his resistance.

Qaddafi said the National Transitional Council, which has assumed leadership of the country since then-rebel forces swept into Tripoli in late August, has no legitimacy.

"World leaders who recognized the rebel council which ousted me will suffer a similar fate," Qaddafi said.

"If international forces give them legitimacy, they better be ready."

The failed push into Sirte has had a sobering effect on commanders who had previously predicted victory was imminent. Taking Sirte is of huge importance to Libya’s new rulers who are putting on hold plans to start rebuilding the country as a democracy until the city falls.

Commanders with the National Transitional Council (NTC) told the Associated Press earlier this week that they believed they would have Sirte, a city of 75,000, under their full control by the weekend.

At the airport, to the south of Sirte, Suleiman Ali, an NTC fighter who said he had been in the city for a month, told AP  talk of a final push was premature.

“They are stupid,” he said of NTC commanders attacking Sirte from the east. “You cannot get in with 15 men. They do not see the balance of their force and our force.”

Qaddafi loyalists, many of whom pulled back to Sirte when they lost control of other cities and have no further avenue of retreat, are have put up fierce resistance for over a month now. It its widely believed the defenders are well- trained and highly motivated professional soldiers who are well-armed and may have brigade strength.

Anti-Qaddafi commanders told Al Jazeera they do not believe the deposed Libyan leader is in Sirte, but do believe one of his sons, Motassem, was in the city. Muammar Qaddafi himself is thought to be hiding somewhere to the south, in the Sahara desert.

The battle for the city has come at a high cost for civilians. They have been trapped by the fighting with dwindling supplies of food and water and no proper medical facilities to treat the wounded.

Anti-Qaddafi forces say they are trying to liberate the people of Sirte from a small number of pro-Qaddafi hardliners and mercenaries.

But residents, who spoke with Reuters by telephone, say ordinary people have taken up arms in Sirte to fight the attackers -- suggesting the battle could be prolonged and that there will be lasting hostility towards Libya’s new rulers when it is over.

“There are no (pro-Qaddafi) brigades. You know, the ones who are fighting in Sirte are the people who lost their brothers, their mothers and sisters,” said Mohammed.

“The families are fighting for their homes and their children who have died.”

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