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Battling pockets of resistance in Libya

TRIPOLI, Libya -- Revolutionary forces have captured almost all of Bani Walid, one of Moammar Gadhafi's last remaining strongholds, but still face pockets of resistance as they try to end a weeks-long standoff, officials said yesterday.

Fierce resistance in Bani Walid and Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte has continued for weeks to prevent Libya's new leaders from declaring full victory and setting a timeline for elections.

It has been more than two months since the former rebels gained control of the rest of the North African nation.

NATO officials have expressed surprise at the persistence of Gadhafi's supporters. Libyans believe the heavy resistance means some of Gadhafi's sons and other high-level regime figures are hiding in the areas.

In a step toward normalcy, the transitional leadership council confirmed it has signed an agreement with NATO that partly lifts the no-fly zone imposed in March over the country. The embargo was imposed as part of the UN Security Council resolution that authorized airstrikes to protect civilians from Gadhafi's regime.

Anwar Elfeitori, the minister of transportation and communications, said the agreement signed Thursday in Malta will make it easier to transport wounded fighters from the front lines for treatment.

"The partial lifting of the air embargo will help with the transportation of the casualties, which is the No. 1 priority at this time, as well as facilitate the movement of people between Libya and the rest of the world," Elfeitori said in an interview.

He said the agreement applies only to specific routes and altitudes for humanitarian flights but is designed so it can be amended to include other areas as security conditions allow.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the revolutionary council fighters are making progress.

He called on pro-Gadhafi forces "to lay down their weapons and join the new Libya."

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