Libyan rebels fly flag over key town near Tripoli

After most dramatic advance in months, rebels cut off Gaddafi's capital from Zawiyah, its main link to outside world.

By REUTERS
August 14, 2011 21:05
2 minute read.
Libyan rebels

Libyan rebels 311 R. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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ZAWIYAH, Libya - Libyan rebels raised their flag over a strategic town near Tripoli on Sunday after their most dramatic advance in months cut off Muammar Gaddafi's capital from its main link to the outside world.

The swift rebel advance on the town of Zawiyah, about 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli, will deal a psychological blow to Gaddafi's supporters and severs the coastal highway to Tunisia which keeps the capital supplied with food and fuel.

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There was no sign Tripoli was under immediate threat from a rebel attack:. Heavily armed pro-Gaddafi forces still lie between Zawiyah and the capital. Previous rebel advances have often been reversed, despite help from NATO warplanes.

But rebel forces are in their strongest position since the uprising against 41 years of Gaddafi's rule began in February. They now control the coast both east and west of Tripoli, while to the north is the Mediterranean and a NATO naval blockade and there is fighting to the south.

"I hope we can go and attack Tripoli in a few days," said Legun, a taxi driver turned anti-Gaddafi fighter. "Now that we have Zawiyah, we can free Libya," he said.

In a day of action across a swathe of northwest Libya, rebels said they had seized the town of Surman, next door to Zawiyah, there was fighting in the town of Garyan that controls the southern access to Tripoli, and shooting could be heard near the main Libyan-Tunisian border crossing.



Moussa Ibrahim, a spokesman for Gaddafi's government, said Zawiyah and Garyan were "under our full control". He said however there were small pockets of fighting in two other locations in the area around Tripoli.

The coastal highway between Tripoli and Tunisia had not been blocked by the fighting, Ibrahim said in a telephone interview, but foreigners were not being allowed to use the route for now "to save them from any bullets here or there".

Rebels from the Western Mountains region to the south dashed forward into Zawiyah late on Saturday, encountering little sustained resistance from Gaddafi's forces.

Near Zawiyah's central market early on Sunday, about 50 rebel fighters were milling around and triumphantly shouting "Allahu Akbar!" or "God is greatest".

The red, black and green rebel flag was flying from a shop. At the point where it passes through Zawiyah, the main highway linking Tripoli to Tunisia was empty of traffic.

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