Sirte was rocked by deadly fighting on Friday in what Libya's new regime forces said was a final assault on Muammar Qadhafi's besieged hometown, with orders to take it despite stiff resistance.

Sustained mortar, machinegun and sniper fire was preventing National Transitional Council (NTC) forces from overrunning the Ouagadougou conference centre, a major bastion of pro-Qadhafi forces in the west of the city.

However, fighters said they had taken a 700-home complex west of the complex.

As ambulances streamed in to a field hospital nearby amid ongoing shelling and heavy resistance, the Misrata military council said at least 12 fighters were killed and 193 wounded.

Hospital administrator Ahmed Mohammed Abu Oud said four ambulances were destroyed by fire from Qadhafi forces, and two ambulance workers wounded.

There were no immediate casualty figures from the eastern side of the Mediterranean city, 360 kilometres east of Tripoli, where morning fighting raged in and around the university, another Qadhafi stronghold. After a ferocious dawn artillery and rocket barrage, hundreds of fighters tried to enter Sirte in pick-ups mounted with anti-aircraft and machineguns.

Much of the sustained NTC tank and mortar fire was concentrated around the Ouagadougou centre. The Misrata military council reported “snipers everywhere”.

NTC commander Nasser Abu Zian told AFP that most of the ground troops had pulled back, with the centre constantly shelled by 106 mm cannon and anti-aircraft guns.

“The fighters went in three ways today,” he said. “The Benghazi fighters went in from the east and we from the south and west.”

“We are surrounding them in the centre of the city in an area of just a few square kilometres.”

Plumes of black smoke could be seen billowing from several parts of the city amid the sound of machinegun fire and explosions.

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