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March 28th, 2011
05:33 PM ET

Libyan opposition target Gadhafi's birthplace

Opposition forces push forward from Bin Jawad toward Moammar Gadhafi's birthplace of Sirte Monday.

Opposition forces push forward from Bin Jawad toward Moammar Gadhafi's birthplace of Sirte Monday.

CNN Wire Staff

Libyan opposition fighters Monday entered territory loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, but soon had to flee amid a barrage of gunfire, rebels told CNN.

As they moved into Umm el Ghindel - near Sirte, Gadhafi's birthplace - they began searching some homes and found that Gadhafi's forces had armed residents in the area, rebels said. As they were talking to residents, asking them to join the opposition, gunfire broke out. Rebels told CNN they refused to fire back and began a hasty retreat. A stream of vehicles could be seen fleeing the area.

CNN could not confirm details of what had transpired.

Earlier, a wounded rebel with bandages on the left side of his head and face described what happened Monday about 30 kilometers (nearly 20 miles) from Sirte, near the city's main entrance.

He said he and a group of fellow opposition fighters came across a group of Gadhafi forces who raised a white flag - a suggestion that they would not shoot. But as the opposition approached the group, the Gadhafi forces fired on them indiscriminately, killing some of the opposition members and wounding others, the rebel told CNN's Arwa Damon. Vehicles were destroyed as well, he said.

Rebels credited coalition airstrikes with helping them regain ground, noting that they had encountered little resistance as they headed west over the weekend. But they said Monday that they need more airstrikes to advance further.

Coalition officials say they are enforcing a U.N. Security Council resolution approved on March 17 that creates a no-fly zone above Libya and mandates the protection of civilians.

Taking Sirte would be a symbolic victory for the rebels, who regained control of several significant towns over the weekend as coalition airstrikes continued in the North African nation.

Rebel forces claimed to have gained control of the town of Ras Lanuf on Sunday. The opposition also appeared to have taken control of the key oil town of al-Brega. Victories in those cities marked a comeback for the ragtag group of amateur soldiers who are unified by one mission: toppling Gadhafi's nearly 42-year rule.

On Monday, opposition troops and Gadhafi's security forces battled over the town of Nawfaliyah. Opposition forces told CNN they had gained control of the city.

CNN could hear explosions and see plumes of smoke in the area of Nawfaliyah and Sirte.

Rebels said the fight to take over Sirte could be their toughest and bloodiest battle yet.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • Global 360° • Middle East
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