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Columns of anti-Gaddafi forces sped towards Bani Walid today after their position came under attack and one of their number said they were planning to take the town, one of the last bastions of support for the ousted Libyan leader.
"We have received orders from our commanders and we are going into Bani Walid today from different locations," anti-Gaddafi fighter Mohammed Jwaida told Reuters at a factory 20km north of the city, where the rebels were dug in.
"We were planning to do this today anyway but Gaddafi forces launched this attack to prevent our advance. They thought we would run away, they are cowards," he said.
"We have about a thousand fighters here today," he said, adding that they would not use heavy artillery because "we do not want to harm civilians".
Earlier, rockets fired by Gaddafi forces in Bani Walid had hit the factory, which is also used as a field hospital. Doctors there said no one had been wounded or killed in the attack. An exchange of heavy machinegun fire followed and large numbers of anti-Gaddafi forces set off to chase the attackers.
"Gaddafi forces fired four or five rockets. We are reinforcing our position and going forward," said anti-Gaddafi fighter Mohamed Al Lawaj.
The desert town has been under siege for two weeks, with die-hard Gaddafi loyalists dug into its steep valleys and hills resisting advancing interim government forces.