Sunday, August 14, 2011
Rebels Make Advances on Three Fronts
Libyan rebels make major advance
Libyan rebels have fought their way into the strategic city of Zawiya west of Tripoli on in their most significant advance in months, battling snipers on rooftops and heavy shelling from Moammar Gaddafi's forces holding the city.
Zawiya, 50 kilometres from the capital, is a key target for rebels waging a new offensive launched from the mountains in the far west of Libya, an attempt to break the deadlock in combat between the two sides that has held for months in the center and east of the country.
A credible threat from the rebels in the west could strain Gaddafi's troops, which have been hammered for months by Nato airstrikes. Defending Zawiya is key for the regime but could require bringing in better trained forces who are currently ensuring its hold over its Tripoli stronghold or fighting rebels on fronts further east.
A group of about 200 exuberant rebel fighters, advancing from the south, reached a bridge on Zawiya's southwestern outskirts on Saturday, and some rebels pushed farther into the city's central main square. They tore down the green flag of Gaddafi's regime from a mosque minaret and put up two rebel flags.
An Associated Press reporter travelling with the rebels saw hundreds of residents rush into the streets, greeting the fighters piled into the backs of pickup trucks with chants of ''God is great.''
Gaddafi's forces then counterattacked with a barrage of heavy weapons, and the loud crackle of gunfire could be heard as rebels and government troops battled.
Regime snipers were firing down from rooftops on the rebels, said one resident, Abdel-Basset Abu Riyak, who joined to fight alongside the rebels when they entered the city. He said Gaddafi's forces were holed up in several pockets in the city and that there were reports of reinforcements coming from Tripoli, though there was no sign of them yet.
Rebel spokesman Jumma Ibrahim claimed that the opposition's fighters controlled most of Zawiya by nightfall. ''What remains are few pockets (of Gaddafi forces) in the city,'' he said. ''The road is now open all the way from the western mountains to Zawiya, we can send them supply and reinforcement anytime.''
Perhaps more importantly,the rebels now control the main highway linking Tripoli to the Tunisian boarder, according to Fadlallah Haroun, the head of the rebels' security council in Benghazi. The road passes through Zawiya.
Zawiya's residents rose up and threw off regime control when Libya's anti-Gaddafi revolt first began in February. But Gaddafi's forces retaliated and crushed opposition in the city in a long and bloody siege in March. Many of Zawiya's rebels fled into the mountains - and were among the lead forces advancing on the city Saturday - while others like Abu Riyak remained in the city, lying low.
Speaking to the AP by telephone, Abu Riyak said residents were now joining up with the rebels' assault, saying, ''95 per cent of Zawiya's people are with the revolution.''
''There is shooting from all sides,'' said another rebel, 23-year-old Ibrahim Akram. ''The people joined us. Fierce clashes are still ongoing, but thank God our numbers are great.''
But Gaddafi is likely to fight hard to keep control of Zawiya. The city of about 200,000 people on the Mediterranean coast is key because it controls the main supply road to the capital from the Tunisian border and is the site of the sole remaining oil refineries in the west still under the regime's control.
The state of government forces after months of punishing Nato airstrikes is not known. The best armed and equipped units, led by Gaddafi's sons, have been involved in fighting at the main fronts - around the city of Misrata, east of Tripoli, and at the oil port of Brega in the center of the country.
Government spokeman Moussa Ibrahim dismissed reports of rebel advance on Zawiya as a ''media game,'' dismissing it as the act of ''remnants of armed gangs.'' He told state TV that ''Tripoli is secure and safe. Even if there is advancement by the armed gangs, it's only temporary under the cover of Nato.''
The rebel force has been advancing into the coastal plain for the past week from the Nafusa Mountains, an opposition stronghold about 100 kilometres to the south. Commanders have said the plan is to seize Zawiya and other nearby towns and then move on Tripoli itself, Gaddafi's stronghold.
At the same time, rebels were attempting to seize control of another strategic town, Gharyan, south of Tripoli.
In the morning Saturday, rebels claimed control of Gharyan, saying they had moved into the center of the town and that Gaddafi's troops had withdrawn. But several hours later, regime forces returned with reinforcements and the two sides clashed, said rebel spokesman Gomma Ibrahim.
Gharyan lies at the northern end of the Nafusa Mountains, and Gaddafi's hold on the town had been a sticking point for rebels who have taken control of most of the range. The town lies on the main road leading directly from Nafusa to Tripoli, 80 kilometres to the north on the coast.
South of Zawiya, rebels said a suspected Nato airstrike accidentally killed four opposition fighters in a tank captured from Gaddafi forces.
Saturday's initial foray into Zawiya appeared hasty, with a band of enthusiastic rebels pushing to the main square while the main force remained on the outskirts. Still, the rebels appear to have learned from the main mistakes from the fronts further east, where the untrained citizen fighters were long on enthusiasm and short on skill.
But during this week's advance in the west, rebels were more cautious. On a main highway headed to Zawiya, rebels set up a rear position at a key intersection by erecting an earthen wall across the road, manned by a tank, to fall back to if necessary. That was a contrast to past battles in the east, where fighters would charge ahead in furious advances, then retreat pell-mell when hit by Gaddafi's artillery and rockets.
Libya's revolt began in February, with the rebels quickly wresting control of much of the eastern half of the country, as well as pockets in the west.
But since April, the conflict has been locked in a stalemate. Despite months of Nato airstrikes hitting regime forces, rebels have failed to budge the main front lines, particularly at the oil port of Brega.
Rebels were claiming some progress at Brega, saying they seized part of the residential zones around its oil terminal. The Benghazi-based rebels' military spokesman, Col. Ahmed Bani, said that rebel fighters are clashing with Gaddafi forces to take control over the rest of the town. ''Very soon all Brega will be liberated,'' he said.
Libyan Rebels Are in Zawiya]
Sunday, August 14th, 2011 at 9:35 am UTC
Libyan rebel fighters say they have fought their way into the strategic city of Zawiya.
Some rebel fighters have reached the city's central main square, however, they say snipers and troops loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi remain in the town.
Zawiya, located 50 kilometers west of Tripoli, lies on the main highway between Tripoli and the border with Tunisia. Rebel control of Zawiya would cut off Tripoli from its supply lines.
On Saturday, rebels said they had seized the town of Gharyan, which is located about 100 kilometers from the capital. Later in the day, the Associated Press quoted an opposition fighter who said a second round of clashes broke out after pro-government forces returned with reinforcements.
In a separate development, a Libyan government official slammed U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on Saturday for comments that that he made earlier in the week concerning civilian casualties.
On Thursday, Mr. Ban expressed concern about the rising number of civilian deaths and urged all sides to “exercise extreme caution.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said that Mr. Ban's remarks were “unacceptable” because they did not single out NATO as being responsible for civilian deaths.
On Tuesday, Libya accused NATO of killing 85 people in a village near the western town of Zlitan. NATO said its warplanes had hit targets in the area the previous day but denied evidence of civilian casualties.
NATO began launching air strikes against in March, supporting rebels who have been fighting against Mr. Gadhafi's 42-year rule.
AGI) Zawiyah - Despite the regime's denials, Libyan rebels seem to have taken control of the center of Zawiyah. The city is strategic for the advancement towards Tripoli from the east, as it is situated only 50 km West of the capital. Around 50 combatants are located in the proximity of the city's principal market, crying "Allahu Akbar!", "Allah is great!" and the rebels' flag now waves on top of a shop. Nonetheless, loyalist troops, including snipers, remain in the city-center, giving rise to the occasional gunshots now being heard. . .
Rebel fighters in Libya are reported to have seized control of the Mediterranean town of Zawiya, about 50 km west of the capital Tripoli, after heavy fighting forces loyal to the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qaddafi.
The Reuters news agency reported on August 14 that around 50 anti-government guerrillas were seen shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great) near the town's main market.
The rebels' red, black and green flag was seen flying from a shop.
Pro-Qaddafi fighters, including snipers, were said by rebels to be still present in the town and occasional gunfire could be heard, though no heavy fighting.
Rebel fighters say Tripoli will be their next target.
The rebel attack on Zawiya is the most dramatic advance into Qaddafi-controlled territory since the uprising against his rule began six months ago.
Since April, the conflict between the rebels and government forces has been locked in a stalemate.
Despite months of NATO airstrikes hitting regime forces, rebels have failed to budge the main front lines.