Saturday 24 February 2018

Rebels and Gaddafi forces fight street war in oil town

Nick Carey in Misrata

Libyan rebel forces have finally entered the oil town of Brega and fought street battles there with forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, a rebel spokesman said, in the biggest offensive in eastern Libya in weeks.

"The news coming from there is that there is a street war going on between Gaddafi troops and the rebels, and 127 are wounded from our side," said Abdulrahman Busm, an official in the rebel National Transitional Council.

Brega, about 750km east of Tripoli, is the site of a strategic oil terminal. The attack could signal a new rebel push westwards from their main stronghold in the east of the country after weeks of stalemate.

NATO, which has been bombing Libya for nearly four months, said its warplanes had struck a military storage facility in Tajoura, an eastern suburb of Tripoli. It said the depot contained battle tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

Defections

Gaddafi is refusing to step down despite a five-month-old rebellion against his rule, a campaign of NATO air strikes, and the defections of members of his inner circle.

The slow progress of the rebel military campaign has caused strains within NATO, with some members pressing for a negotiated solution to bring a swift end to a conflict many thought would last only a few weeks.

In a speech over the weekend Gaddafi described the rebels as worthless traitors and rejected suggestions he was about to leave the country. Reports have circulated that Gaddafi is seeking a negotiated way out of the crisis.

"They said Gaddafi will go to Honolulu," he said in a televised speech. "This is funny. To leave the graves of my forefathers and my people? Are you serious?"

His defiance came a day after western and Arab powers, led by the US, said the rebel leadership was the legitimate government of Libya and underscored their demand that Gaddafi and his family relinquish power.

Brega has changed hands several times in the back-and-forth fighting along Libya's Mediterranean coast since the rebellion began in February.

Rebels say taking it back will be a tipping point in the conflict on the eastern front. On Saturday they said a reconnaissance unit sent into the town in preparation for an attack had clashed with government forces.

Meanwhile, NATO warplanes have been targeting pro-Gaddafi forces near Brega. The alliance said targets hit on Friday included one tank, five armoured fighting vehicles, and two rocket launchers near the town.

Libyan officials in Tripoli made no comment on any fighting in Brega, and it was not immediately possible to verify rebel accounts.

Irish Independent

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