Gaddafi cut off as rebels storm key coastal town
Published 15/08/2011 | 05:00
LIBYAN rebels have struck a crucial blow, storming into a town just west of the capital and cutting off the regime's supply route to the outside world.
Their forces were yesterday still engaged in street fighting with troops loyal to Col Muammar Gaddafi in Zawiyah, 30 miles from Tripoli and the scene of a previous major battle.
Both sides were sustaining losses, according to reports. Among the dead were four rebel victims of "friendly fire", hit by a missile aimed by a NATO jet at a Gaddafi tank they had captured.
Regime spokesmen claimed that the fighting in Zawiyah, which lies on the coast and is home to one of Libya's two main oil refineries, was a "skirmish" with a "suicide squad" of 100 rebel fighters.
With the rebels controlling the south-west of the country and Misurata on the main road east, and NATO patrolling the sea, Gaddafi's main supply routes were all shut off.
Opposition forces, who are increasingly confident of military success even as their political leadership is more divided, were also fighting for control of Garyan, a town which guards the main road south. The capital has already begun to suffer power cuts.
The successful rebel push has come from the direction seen as least likely when NATO began bombing in March.
Last night, regime troops had retreated to defend the refinery by the coast. Rebel tricolour flags had been raised in parts of Zawiyah.
Zawiyah's centre was overrun by rebels early in the uprising, but regime forces recaptured it in an all-out assault in March. The ferocity of that attack, with tanks blowing up rebel hide-outs in residential areas, including a city centre mosque, and opposition supporters being rounded up and led off to prison, was partly responsible for the NATO intervention.
Western leaders watching Gaddafi's troops advancing on the main rebel cities of Ajdabiya, Benghazi and Tobruk in the east feared a similar bloodbath there.
"Our forces are in control of the western and southern gates of Zawiyah and have pushed 3km into the city," Bashir Ahmed Ali, a rebel commander, said.
There remain a number of well-defended loyalist strongholds around Tripoli, which will not fall easily. On Libya's eastern front, rebels are seeking to seize the country's other main oil refinery, near Brega. (© Daily Telegraph, London)