Gaddafi troops shell frontline city in fresh blow to rebels
Published 18/04/2011 | 05:00
Muammar Gaddafi's forces shelled the eastern edge of Ajdabiya yesterday, bringing the fight to the front-line rebel town that has been the scene of fierce fighting in recent weeks.
Loud booms rocked the city throughout the morning, sending a column of cars -- some with rebel fighters, others with families -- fleeing north through a thick sandstorm to more securely held rebel territory.
Rebel forces fired back with rockets and no government forces entered the city, said rebel fighter Awad Sathi.
The government strikes highlight the rebels' inability to hold territory along the desert road to the city's east where weeks of fighting has seen neither side able to make significant advances.
Rebels acknowledged the setback a day after claiming they had reached the outskirts of the oil town of Brega, about 60 miles to the west.
"The situation is hard here, and we don't really know who is holding what," Mr Sathi said tonight.
Last week, a government force of tanks and armed pickup trucks rushed the city, a few of them entering before airstrikes from the Nato force enforcing a no-fly zone stopped the advance.
Mohammed Idris, a hospital supervisor in Ajdabiya, said Gaddafi's forces appeared to have advanced on the city in the morning, firing on its eastern flank.
Rebel reinforcements reached the town in the afternoon, firing back with their own rockets from two spots on the outskirts, he said.
Mr Idris said only one of the government's strikes hit the city, a mortar round that fell in a deserted residential neighbourhood. No dead fighters were brought to the hospital, he said, although a few received minor injuries.
The Nato-led air campaign has kept rebels from being defeated on the battlefield by the better trained and equipped government forces, but it still has not been enough to turn the tide.
The rebels have been unable to reach Gaddafi's heavily defended hometown of Sirte, the gateway to the western half of the country.
Rebel advances west of Ajdabiya -- through Brega and its companion oil centre of Ras Lanouf, another 60 miles further on -- have ultimately foundered as rebels overextended their supply lines and were routed by the heavier firepower and the use of more sophisticated tactics by government forces.
But while Gaddafi's troops have been able to halt rebel advances and push back east, they have been unable to move in on Benghazi, largely because of the threat of Nato airstrikes on Gaddafi's exposed forces.