Libyan rebels during training exercise 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Bob Strong)
BENGHAZI, Libya - Libyan rebels on Saturday said they had launched a push to capture the coastal oil town of Brega, but were advancing slowly because Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces had sown minefields across its approaches.
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"There's a big movement on all fronts around Brega. We are attacking from three sides," said spokesman Mohammad Zawawi.
Fighting on the eastern front of the civil war, which has moved backwards and forwards for the past months, has been bogged down for weeks on the fringes of Brega, about 750 km (465 miles) east of Tripoli.
Zawawi said rebel forces were in sight of a residential area of Brega
and believed they could take the town, which is south of the rebel
capital Benghazi on the eastern side of the Gulf of Sirte.
"It could be very soon, but we don't want to lose anybody so we're moving slowly but surely," he said.
In Misrata, a Qatari plane made a quick stop to offload ammunition
destined for rebel fighters, sources with knowledge of the flight said.
Airport officials acknowledged a Qatari plane had landed but declined to
reveal details of its contents.
"The plane offloaded six pickup trucks which were packed with
ammunition, and minutes later it flew off again," said one source,
speaking on condition of anonymity.
Rebels have complained about a lack of weapons and ammunition to
effectively push forward to the capital. France has also supplied
ammunition and weapons in air-drops.
Qatar has been one of staunchest supporters of Libyans seeking to topple Muammar Gaddafi from power.
Friday was another day of claim and counter-claim in the six-month-old
war now being waged on three fronts -- in the Western Mountains
southwest of Tripoli, near Misrata to the east of the capital, and
around Brega between Misrata and Benghazi.
Gaddafi's government on Friday denied a rebel report a NATO air strike
on Zlitan, a town west of Misrata, had killed the Libyan leader's son
Khamis who commands of one of the government's most loyal and
Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said word of Khamis Gaddafi's death
was a ploy to cover up the killing of three civilians in Zlitan, a
battlefront city where Gaddafi forces are trying to halt the rebel
advance on Tripoli.
"It's false news. This is a dirty trick to cover up their crime in Zlitan," he told Reuters.
A rebel spokesman said the NATO air strike had killed 32 Gaddafi
loyalists in Zlitan, where Khamis Gaddafi's elite 32nd Brigade is
believed to have been leading the defense of the approaches to Tripoli,
160 kilometers away.
NATO said it had targeted a command-and-control target in the Zlitan
area but "cannot confirm anything right now because we don't have people
on the ground".
Tripoli also was rocked by a long series of explosions starting around 2
a.m. local time on Sunday (0000 GMT), producing giant plumes of smoke.
Planes could be heard overhead and flames could be seen in the distance.
Libyan state television said NATO airstrikes had hit civilian and
military targets in Tripoli.Rebel troops are moving westward
Rebels who cleared Gaddafi's forces from Libya's third-largest city
Misrata after weeks of intense fighting have been trying to push
westwards and take Zlitan, which would open the coastal road toward his
There have been two reports of Khamis's death in the past six months:
Arab media reported in March he had died in a kamikaze crash by a
disaffected Libyan air force pilot. Libyan state television countered
with pictures of a man resembling Khamis, which it said disproved the
report of his death.
The government said earlier this year a NATO strike in Tripoli had
killed Gaddafi's son Saif al-Arab, who unlike Khamis did not have a high
public profile or a major leadership role.
Gaddafi has kept control of the capital despite severe fuel shortages
and rebel advances backed since March by Western air strikes, assault
helicopter attacks and naval bombardments.
The rebels face numerous problems, from stalling battlefield momentum to
internal splits, exposed starkly last week when military chief Abdel
Fattah Younes was assassinated behind his own lines in circumstances yet
to be explained.
Near the capital, rebels also control the Western Mountains southwest of
Tripoli. A rebel official there, Colonel Juma Ibrahim, told Reuters his
forces had set an ultimatum to the surrounded town of Tiji to surrender
or face attack on Saturday.
Rebels were using megaphones to appeal to a tribal chief close to
Gaddafi to evacuate civilians from Tiji and broker the withdrawal of
"If he does not comply, we will attack," said Ibrahim.