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By Sherine El Madany
EAST OF SIRTE, Libya, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Libyan troops are unable to defeat forces loyal to deposed leader Muammar Gaddafi in the city of Sirte because the country’s new rulers are failing to supply them with enough ammunition, fighters near the front line said on Tuesday.
In the latest reverse in weeks of chaotic fighting over Sirte, Gaddafi’s birthplace and one of the last remaining bastions of his support, five anti-Gaddafi fighters were killed on Tuesday after they came under artillery fire.
More than a month after Gaddafi was swept from power, the interim government has still not stamped out the last pockets of resistance, prompting criticism over its lack of cohesion and raising fresh questions about whether it can run the oil exporting country effectively.
Fighters making their way back from the front line said they were meeting heavy resistance from loyalists at a place called Khamseen, 50 km (31 miles) east of Sirte, and were unable to respond because they lacked the firepower.
“The military base is not supporting us with enough ammunition,” said Alnoufy Al-Ferjany, the commander of a military brigade called Martyrs of Alhawry.
He was at the hospital in Ras Lanuf, the nearest big settlement to the east of Sirte, after bringing in four of his comrades who were injured by mortar fire near Khamseen.
“We have presented a request but they have not responded and that is why we have a lot of people injured. We are on the front line and there isn’t any ammunition. I experience this problem almost on a daily basis,” Al-Ferjany told Reuters.
A Reuters reporter about 60 km (38 miles) to the east of Sirte, near the village of Harawa, saw ambulances and pick up trucks racing back from the front line, while artillery rounds fired by Gaddafi loyalists slammed into the ground.
In the back of one pick-up truck was a fighter with blood pouring from a head wound.
A small field hospital in Harawa had run out of space so three wounded fighters were being treated for wounds to their heads, legs and shoulders on stretchers outside.
One fighter, his clothes covered in blood and crying, described how he had brought in one of his comrades after he was hit by an artillery strike in Khamseen.
Doctors at the field hospital, and the hospital in Ras Lanuf, said five fighters were killed and a total of 19 wounded in the fighting on Tuesday.
Another fighter outside the field hospital, who declined to give his name, repeated the complaint about supply problems.
“Yesterday we only managed to fire one Grad rocket because we are starting to run out of ammunition and we are saving as much ammunition as possible for Sirte,” said the fighter, who was wearing camouflage fatigues.
An NTC military spokesman in the capital Tripoli denied there was any ammunition shortage. “The fighters say there is enough,” Ahmed Bani told Reuters on Tuesday.
But the account of supply problems was echoed by an influential Islamist scholar, Ali Al-Sallabi, who told Reuters the NTC’s de facto prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, should quit for failing to provide ammunition for the troops.
The United States and European powers have given Libya’s new rulers, the National Transitional Council (NTC), their endorsement after NATO warplanes helped them to end Gaddafi’s 42 years in power.
But the stalled fight over Sirte — and stop-start offensives at the other pro-Gaddafi strongholds of Bani Walid and Sabha — have underlined doubts about the NTC’s organisational ability.
Earlier on Tuesday, an NTC fighter with family inside Sirte described the deteriorating conditions for civilians trapped by the fighting in the city, about 450 km (280 miles) east of Tripoli.
“The city is in a very bad condition. The people are living without water, electricity, or gas or baby milk for about three months now and the people in Sirte are drinking polluted water,” said Ayoub Al-Ferzany, who had managed to get out of the city to join the anti-Gaddafi fighters.
“They are surrounded in the middle of the city (by Gaddafi loyalists) and cannot leave because of the shelling and because of snipers. About half of the people in Sirte were able to flee from the west but it is very difficult for them to come towards the east, because resistance there is very strong,” he said. (Writing by Christian Lowe)