Libya’s coastal city of Sirte, home town of ex-dictator Moamer Kadhafi and a strategic gateway to oil export ports, is now at the centre of tensions between rival forces. On Friday, Libya’s warring rival administrations announced in separate statements they would cease all hostilities and organise nationwide elections. But the promised ceasefire leaves the fate of Sirte hanging in the balance. Buffer between GNA and Haftar Haftar, who controls most of eastern Libya, seized Sirte in January, months after launching an assault on the capital Tripoli, the base of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). Sirte had been held by GNA forces since December 2016 when they ousted Islamic State group jihadists after six months of fighting.Haftar’s forces, backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia, entered the city almost unopposed by buying the allegiance of a local Salafist armed group. Backed by Turkey, GNA fighters have pushed pro-Haftar forces from most of western Libya, recapturing a string of strategic cities and positions. And they have vowed to retake Sirte, the last major settlement before the traditional boundary between western Libya and Haftar’s stronghold in the east.On Friday, GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj said the ceasefire would allow the creation of “demilitarised zones” in Sirte and the Al-Jufra region further south that Haftar’s forces control. But Aguila Saleh, speaker of the eastern-based parliament backed by Haftar, did not mention demilitarisation zones, proposing however the installation of a new government in Sirte. In June, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of neighbouring Egypt warned that Sirte was a “red line” that Turkey-backed forces should not cross. Strategic importanceSirte lies on the Mediterranean coast, roughly halfway between Tripoli in the west and Libya’s second city Benghazi in the east, and just 300 kilometres (190 miles) from the shores of Italy. It is also a mere 150 kilometres west of Libya’s main oil export terminals.In May 2016, pro-GNA forces used Libya’s third-largest city, Misrata, as a launchpad for operations to oust IS from Sirte, fearful the jihadists were seeking to control Libya’s key oil region.The traditional boundary between Libya’s western Tripolitania and eastern Cyrenaica regions lies just east of Sirte.Sirte’s only importance for centuries lay in its geographic position as the largely desert region separated Roman provinces from Greek ones. Kadhafi’s birthplaceKadhafi was born in Sirte in 1942 and made great efforts to turn the city into the capital of his “Jamahiriya” — a “state of the masses” run by local committees. He created a new province around Sirte in addition to the three existing regions of Cyrenaica in the east, Fezzan in the south, and Tripolitania in the west.In the 1990s, he ordered ministries to be created in the coastal city, and even set up a parliament there, but eventually gave up on his plans. Kadhafi was captured and killed in the town on October 20, 2011. Jihadist bastionAfter Kadhafi’s ouster in a NATO-backed uprising, Sirte was largely left to its own devices until it fell in June 2015 into the hands of IS, who flew their jihadist flag over public buildings. In December 2016, backed by US warplanes, drones and helicopters that conducted more than 460 strikes, GNA forces drove the jihadists out of the city after six months of heavy fighting.