Gaddafi defiant as rebels claim gains in west

by editor | 15th August 2011 6:08 am

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Libyan leader urges loyalists to pick up weapons as opposition forces launch western campaign to isolate Tripoli.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has urged his supporters to fight for the country “inch by inch” as opposition forces launched a two-pronged offensive in western Libya that threatens to isolate the capital of Tripoli.
Facing the sternest challenge of his decades-long rule, Gaddafi on Monday called on Libyans to arm themselves to liberate the country from “traitors and from NATO” in a broadcast on state television.
The speech, which was broadcast in audio only with no images, was the first time Gaddafi had spoken in public since rebel fighters launched their biggest offensive in months.


[1] “The Libyan people will remain and the Fateh revolution (which brought Gaddafi to power in 1969) will remain. Move forward, challenge, pick up your weapons, go to the fight for liberating Libya inch by inch from the traitors and from NATO,” Gaddafi said.

“Get ready for the fight … The blood of martyrs is fuel for the battlefield,” he added.

Opposition fighters fought for control of the towns of Gharyan and Az-Zawiyah on Sunday, attempting to cut off the southern coastal route from Tunisia that Gaddafi uses for supplies.

Zeina Khodr, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Az-Zawiyah, reported that the rebels had taken control of a bridge along which the highway from Tripoli to Tunisia runs, but that central areas of the city remained contested, with Gaddafi forces employing snipers and mortar fire.

The battle also raged near the gates of the city.

‘Many casualties’

Al Jazeera’s Khodr said opposition fighters claimed to have taken 70 per cent of the town, despite the threat of snipers.

Bashir Ahmed Ali, the rebels’ battalion commander in Az-Zawiyah, said that his forces had suffered “many casualties” due to sniper fire. He also told the AFP news agency that a tank and four fighters had been lost in a “friendly fire” air strike during the operation to take Az-Zawiyah.

The gains were possible “because the Gaddafi forces’ defences were weak and fighters received help from inside the city. As they expected, residents took up arms and fought alongside them when they arrived,” Khodr reported.


[2] Click here for more of Al Jazeera’s special coverage “The town had previously risen up against Gaddafi, but government forces quelled that uprising.

“Today’s victory would be the opposition’s most significant in months because they were just 50 km from Tripoli, a mere half an hour’s drive, if they could hold the territory and stave off a Gaddafi counter offensive,” our correspondent said.

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim rejected the claims: “Az-Zawiyah is completely under our control. A very small group of rebels tried to enter from the south of Az-Zawiyah but they were stopped easily by our armed forces.”

Early on Sunday, rebel fighters claimed victory in Gharyan after Gaddafi’s soldiers withdrew. Government forces returned several hours later, however, and clashes continued.

The rebels also claimed to have taken control of the western town of Surman.

Rebel forces launched ground attacks after NATO planes hit targets in these areas.

Rebels also said they gained ground on Saturday in the government-held oil town of Brega. The rebels’ claims of taking over Brega was denied by government officials.

Opposition forces hope that by taking complete control of the city, its oil terminal and sea port will allow them to resume oil exports.

Capture of Tawurgha

On the western front, opposition commanders said they had control of the town of Tawurgha as they pushed to cut supply routes to forces loyal to Gaddafi.

In a symbolic show of victory, fighters tore down green flags that had been hoisted atop buildings by Gaddafi supporters who had occupied the area.

Despite battlefield gains, the Libyan rebels still face the threat of internal divisions

“Gaddafi is finished!” shouted a jubilant fighter.

The rebels encountered heavy fighting and sizable pockets of resistance among a maze of buildings and date palms.

Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from Tawurgha, said it was a heavily co-ordinated operation with NATO, with six tanks involved.

“Fighting is going on in the old quarter of the town where Gaddafi forces are still putting up some resistance,” he said.

“Opposition fighters have been searching houses one after the other with green flags. Many, many Gaddafi forces have been arrested in areas surrounding the town to try to secure the area to stop Grad missiles from being fired on Misurata from here.

“Their other objective is to try to cut the supply line to the Gaddafi stronghold of Sirte.”

The citizens of Misurata have blamed forces in Tawurgha for many of the attacks on their hometown.

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