Rebels' grip on territory in Libya questioned after battle
Published 01/08/2011 | 05:00
Rebel forces fought gunmen loyal to Muammar Gaddafi in eastern Libya yesterday in the latest incident to undermine the insurgents' grip on territory they hold.
The clashes renewed opposition fears that Gaddafi's agents had infiltrated the area, days after the mysterious killing of the rebel military commander.
The assassination of General Abdel Fattah Younes, apparently by gunmen on his own side, has hurt the opposition just as it was winning broader international recognition and making gains against Gaddafi's forces.
Rebel spokesman Mahmoud Shammam said clashes had broken out when rebel forces attacked a militia that had helped some 300 Gaddafi loyalists break out of jail near Benghazi on Friday. At least six rebels were killed in the fighting.
"At 8am, the barracks was brought under control. Thirty men surrendered and we took their weapons," Mr Shammam told reporters.
The clashes reflect growing fears that Gaddafi loyalists are exploiting the lawlessness that prevails in the east.
The fighting took place as speculation swirls over the circumstances of General Younes's death. The 67-year-old general's record as Gaddafi's interior minister before his defection in February made him the target of suspicion.
Some Libyans suspect his execution was ordered by rebel leaders for treason, many say he was killed by Gaddafi spies, and others suggest a rebel splinter group had acted alone.
In an apparent effort to avert a feud, rebels named Suleiman al-Obeidi, a member of Younes's tribe, as acting military chief.
Keeping up diplomatic pressure on Gaddafi, Britain said yesterday it would take part in the NATO air campaign for as long as it took, and Germany expelled a Libyan diplomat.
Meanwhile, amid heavy fighting yesterday, rebel tanks pounded Gaddafi troops in Tiji, some 200km south-west of Tripoli, inching 1km closer to the last government stronghold in the Western Mountains.
About 14 rebels were killed and more than 20 wounded, sources said, in a second day of heavy fighting on the front near Zlitan, some 160km east of Tripoli and the largest town between rebel-held Misrata and the capital.
About 20 explosions rocked Misrata overnight in an apparent attack by Gaddafi loyalists.
Libyan rebels also said they had moved closer to the oil town of Brega.