Rebel fighters drive towards Ras Lanuf, Libya 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Andrew Winning)
Libya - Libya's ramshackle rebel army
has pushed west to retake a series of towns from the forces of Muammar
Gaddafi who are being pounded by Western air strikes.
Early Monday morning, a Libyan rebel spokesperson said that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte was captured by them. No independent verification of the rebel statement was immediately available.
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Emboldened by the help of the air strikes, the rebels have rapidly
reversed military losses in their five-week insurgency and regained
control of all the main oil terminals in eastern Libya, as far as the
town of Bin Jawad.
Rebels said on Sunday they now had their sights on the coastal town of
Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown and an important military base about 150 km
(90 miles) further along the coast. A Reuters reporter in Sirte heard
four blasts on Sunday night. It was unclear if they were in the town or
The reporter also saw a convoy of 20 military vehicles including
truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns leaving Sirte and moving westwards
towards Tripoli, along with dozens of civilian cars carrying families
and stuffed with personal belongings.
"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 pickup trucks mounted with
The advance along Libya's Mediterranean coast by a poorly armed and
uncoordinated force of volunteer rebels suggested that Western strikes
under a UN no-fly zone were shifting the battlefield dynamics
dramatically, in the east at least.
The rebels are now back in control of the main oil terminals in the east
-- Es Sider, Ras Lanuf, Brega, Zueitina and Tobruk -- while Gaddafi
appears to be retrenching in the west.
Nearer the capital, Gaddafi's forces fought rebels in the center of
Misrata, Libya's third city, to try to consolidate his grip on western
Libya. Misrata is the only western city still in rebel hands and has
been sealed off for weeks.
A resident called Saadoun told Reuters by phone that at least eight
people were killed and 24 wounded when Gaddafi's forces fired mortar
shells while attacking Misrata from the west in a day of fighting.
Pro-Gaddafi snipers were also pinning down rebel forces but late on Sunday night the fighting died down.
A rebel called Mohammed told Reuters by phone that pro-Gaddafi forces
controlled "only one small area, a couple of streets" in the western
part of the city.
Residents told Reuters they were having to use wells to get water and that medicines were in short supply.
At least six blasts resonated in Tripoli on Sunday night, followed by
long bursts of anti-aircraft fire by Libyan forces. Libyan television
said there had been air strikes on the "civilian and military areas" in
Libyan state TV broadcast what it said was live footage of Gaddafi in a
car in his Tripoli compound where hundreds of supporters waved green
flags and chanted slogans. Gaddafi could not be seen in the white car
but the TV said he was in it.
On Sunday, NATO agreed to take full command of military operations in
Libya after a week of heated negotiations, officials said, as Washington
seeks to scale back its role in another Muslim country after operations
in Iraq and Afghanistan.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Western air strikes had "eliminated" Gaddafi's ability to move his heavy weapons.
Gates also raised the possibility that Gaddafi's government could
splinter and said an international conference in London on Tuesday would
discuss political strategies to help bring an end to Gaddafi's 41-year
Libya accused NATO of "terrorizing" and killing its people as part of a
global plot to humiliate and weaken the North African country.
The government says Western-led air attacks have killed more than 100
civilians, a charge denied by the coalition which says it is protecting
civilians from Gadaffi's forces and targeting only military sites to
enforce the no-fly zone.
"The terror people live in, the fear, the tension is everywhere. And
these are civilians who are being terrorized every day," said Mussa
Ibrahim, a Libyan government spokesman.
"We believe the unnecessary continuation of the air strikes is a plan to
put the Libyan government in a weak negotiating position. NATO is
prepared to kill people, destroy army training camps and army
checkpoints and other locations."
Ibrahim acknowledged that rebel forces in the east were advancing
westwards but declined to give any details on the retreat of government
He said three Libyan civilian sailors were killed in a coalition air
strike on a fishing harbor in the city of Sirte on Saturday.