Libya rebels advance towards Gaddafi's birthplace

On eve of 35-nation talks, Italy proposes political deal to end Libya crisis; Russia criticizes Western-led air strikes.

By REUTERS
March 28, 2011 15:58
2 minute read.
Libyan rebels outside Sirte

libyan rebels sirte 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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BIN JAWAD, Libya - Rebels advanced towards the birthplace of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on Monday, streaming west along the main coastal road in pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns.

Russia criticized the Western-led air strikes that have turned the tide of Libya's conflict, saying these amounted to taking sides in a civil war and breached the terms of a United Nations Security Council resolution.

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On the eve of 35-nation talks in London, Italy proposed a political deal to end the Libya crisis, including a quick ceasefire, exile for Gaddafi and dialogue between rebels and tribal leaders.

Emboldened by the Western-led air strikes against Gaddafi's forces, the rebels have quickly reversed earlier losses and regained control of all the main oil terminals in the east of the OPEC member country.

"We want to go to Sirte today. I don't know if it will happen," said 25-year-old rebel fighter Marjai Agouri as he waited with 100 others outside Bin Jawad with three multiple rocket launchers, six anti-aircraft guns and around a dozen pick-up trucks with machine guns mounted on them.

But the rapid advance is stretching rebel supply lines.

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"We have a serious problem with petrol," said a volunteer fighter waiting to fill his vehicle in the oil town of Ras Lanuf.

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Al Jazeera said the rebels had seized the town of Nawfaliyah from forces loyal to Gaddafi, extending their advance westwards towards his hometown of Sirte, about 120 km (75 miles) away.

However a Reuters correspondent who was about 15 km (10 miles) west of Bin Jawad on the road to Nawfaliyah heard a sustained bombardment on the road ahead.

"This is the frontline. The army has stopped over there, we are stopping here," Mohammed al-Turki, 21, a fighter at a rebel checkpoint, told Reuters, pointing to the road ahead where the sounds of blasts were coming from.

Western-led air strikes began on March 19, two days after the UN Security Council authorized "all necessary measures" to protect civilians from Gaddafi's forces. But since the outset, the mission has faced questions about its scope and aims, including the extent to which it will actively back the rebel side and whether it might target Gaddafi himself.

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