Rebels, Gaddafi forces clash on oil town outskirts

Fighters loyal to Gaddafi are pushed out of Brega; rebels still face bombardments; black smoke seen rising from town, loud thuds heard.

Libyan rebels with anti-aircraft gun 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Andrew Winning)
Libyan rebels with anti-aircraft gun 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Andrew Winning)
BREGA - Rebels pushed forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi out of much of Brega and to the outskirts of the sprawling oil town on Monday in a slow advance west, but were still facing bombardment with each step.
Brega, spread across about 25 km (15 miles), has changed hands several times during the past month as government troops and opposition forces fought along a coastal strip that divides the rebel-held east and Gaddafi's stronghold in the west.
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Showing signs of greater organization than in past weeks, rebels aided by Western air strikes have moved more cautiously and held ground more stubbornly than before despite facing Gaddafi's better-equipped ground forces.
"Gaddafi's forces are waiting at the western gate exactly. Any advance by the rebels, they fire at with mortars," said rebel fighter Youssef Shawadi, speaking a few kilometers (miles) from the western gate.
Signs of fighting were evident from the dozens of burned out pick-ups and cars lying on the side of the road through the town. The sound of thuds came from the direction of the western gate and black smoke rose from the area.
"They (Gaddafi's forces) are still near the (western) gate and beyond the gate. The clashes are continuing," said another fighter, who did not give his name.
A rebel force mainly made up of enthusiastic but poorly trained troops had raced west to beyond Bin Jawad, about 525 km (330 miles) east of Tripoli, backed by Western air strikes early last week before Gaddafi's troops mounted a counter-offensive.
Rebels were then pushed back, just as rapidly, more than 200 km (125 miles) into the eastern half of the country. But the new rebel attack has shown greater organization with more trained officers moving forward with heavier rockets.