At least 40 dead as Gaddafi forces take rebel city in Libya

March 9, 2011 19:22

Local doctor says many dead in Zawiyah's streets, including elderly, woman, children after forces use tanks, snipers to drive rebels out of city stronghold.

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Libyan gestures atop a car

Libyan rebel waving hand (R) 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)

TRIPOLI - At least 40 people died Wednesday as forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi regained control of the center of Zawiyah on Wednesday, after using tanks and snipers to drive rebels out of their stronghold in the western city's main square, residents said.

A fighter told Reuters pro-Gaddafi forces had entered the main square of Zawiyah as rebels pulled back. A local doctor confirmed the report and said the death toll in the day's fighting was at least 40 and probably many more. The doctor said there were many dead in the streets, including old people, women and children.

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Libyan state television also showed footage of Gaddafi supporters waving flags who it said were moving towards the center of Zawiyah, which had been the closest rebel-held city to the capital Tripoli.

"We have pulled back and they are inside the square but we will attack them again and have it back," the fighter said by telephone. "We will do that tonight. This is not the end."

Foreign reporters are prevented from entering Zawiyah, 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli without an official escort.

With the international community still hesitant about how to respond to the crisis in Libya, a counter-offensive by Gaddafi has halted a rebel advance in the east and left others stranded in Zawiyah and another western city, Misrata.

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Rebels in the east, faced a fresh barrage of artillery fire on their desert frontline outside the oil port of Ras Lanuf.

Rebels captured Ras Lanuf last week and began pushing down the strategic coastal road towards Sirte, Gaddafi's home town.

But they were beaten back and were on a stretch of no man's land desert between Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad, 550 km (340 miles) east of Tripoli.

Gaddafi loyalists launched a bombardment near rebel positions around the oil terminal of Sidra near Ras Lanuf blowing up storage tanks at the facility.

Rebels retaliated by firing back with rockets as a fireball exploded from one of the oil tanks and the sky above the terminal filled with black smoke.

It was not clear if an air strike, rockets or artillery had caused the explosions at Sidra. Rebels blamed Gaddafi forces.

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