Libyan rebels repel attacks; Gaddafi forces encircle city

Doctor reports 30 killed in fighting between pro-, ant-Gaddafi forces east of Tripoli; Gaddafi forces encircle Zawiyah, close exits.

By REUTERS, JPOST.COM STAFF
March 5, 2011 04:28
2 minute read.
Libyan gestures atop a car

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

TRIPOLI - Libyan rebels have repelled an attack by Muammar Gaddafi's forces on the western town of Zawiyah, a rebel spokesman told Reuters on Saturday. A doctor in the town told Reuters that 30 people were killed, mostly civilians, in the new violence, bringing the death toll from the last two days to at least 60. The doctor added that though he could be sure of 30 dead, the "death toll is higher."

"They entered Zawiyah at six in the morning with heavy forces, hundreds of soldiers with tanks. Our people fought back ... We have won for now and civilians are gathering in the square," said Youssef Shagan, the rebel force spokesman in Zawiyah.

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Meanwhile, Gaddafi's forces have encircled Zawiyah and are closing in on the center after being pushed back by rebels earlier on Saturday, a Reuters witness said.

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"Access to central Zawiyah is completely blocked," she said.  

Pro-government forces had fired from tanks at residential areas in Zawiyah, as fighting in the town continued, Arabic satellite channels reported. "Now with all the artillery, tanks and armored vehicles, we're seeing battles and killings we haven't seen in Iraq. I consider it total genocide," said one witness who spoke to Al Arabiya television.

"The battles have now entered the city. More than 15 armored vehicles entered two hours ago along with a tank. There is heavy firing in all the areas and mosques have announced 'jihad' against these brigades," the man told Al Arabiya.

Al Jazeera carried similar reports about fighting in Zawiyah and said tanks had fired on homes.

In another area of conflict, rebel fighters in the eastern Libyan town of Ras Lanuf opened fire on a helicopter flying overhead, a Reuters correspondent in the town reported, a day after rebels said they had seized the town.

There was no sign of soldiers loyal to Gaddafi in the town, although the government had denied the rebel claim on Friday that they controlled Ras Lanuf, which appeared to be firmly in rebel hands.

At least
30 civilians were killed in the clashes Friday, residents said by telephone. An improvised force of rebels was pushed back to the central square in Zawiyah, about 50 km (30 miles) west of the capital Tripoli, a rebel spokesman said.

A Libyan government official said Zawiyah had been taken: "It's been liberated, maybe there are still some pockets (under rebel control) but otherwise it's been liberated."

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