Gaddafi spokesman says NATO strikes kill civilians

Allegations come as Libyan interim government forces prepare for assault on Gaddafi hometown, face rocket fire from the city.

Anti-Gaddafi forces prepare for Sirte battle 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Anti-Gaddafi forces prepare for Sirte battle 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Muammar Gaddafi's spokesman told Reuters on Saturday that NATO air strikes on Sirte overnight had hit a residential building and a hotel, killing 354 people.
His claim could not immediately be verified as Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown, has been largely cut off from communication since the fall of Tripoli.
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"We are aware of these allegations," Colonel Roland Lavoie, spokesman for the Western military alliance, said in Brussels. "It is not the first time such allegations have been made. Most often, they are revealed to be unfounded or inconclusive."
Diehard loyalists of Muammar Gaddafi unleashed barrages of rockets and mortars to beat back an assault by interim government forces on one of their last bastions in Libya's desert and also held off an advance into his home town.
Forced to retreat from Bani Walid by a heavily armed, well dug-in force estimated at several hundred, columns of fighters in pick-up trucks raced back out of the interior desert town on Friday after a day that began with talk of ending the siege and capturing senior figures from the old ruling elite.
At Sirte on Libya's central Mediterranean coast, forces of the National Transitional Council (NTC) seized the airport on the outskirts of Gaddafi's home town and moved toward pockets of resistance scattered across built-up areas.
But by nightfall, Gaddafi loyalists were still holding out strongly in Sirte and there was no sign of a rapid end to a siege which has dragged on for weeks.
"Gaddafi's troops are between the houses, there are a lot of snipers on the roofs," NTC fighter Mabrook Salem said.
"We attack them with rockets, it makes a lot of damage but it is the best way to control them," he said.
Explosions, staccato gunfire and the whoosh of rockets echoed from the center of Sirte and black smoke curled into the sky above. NATO planes roared overhead.