Libya rebels battle Gadaffi offensive

Libyan rebels battled to defend their gains in the face of an offensive by troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi on Monday, holding on to strategic Bir Ghanam but suffering casualties elsewhere.

Rebels fighting at Zliten, 120km to the east of Tripoli, admitted they were running low on ammunition as they struggled to hold off an assault by loyalist forces.

Abdul Wahab Melitan, a rebel spokesperson in the port city of Misrata near Zliten, said forces loyal to strongman Gaddafi had launched an assault on their positions on Sunday in the Souk Telat area.

Since then, he said, four rebel fighters have been killed and 40 wounded. “The rebels lack ammunition to advance and we do not want to risk losing any ground,” Melitan said.

The rebels on Tuesday punched into the centre of Zliten, sparking fierce clashes but later pulled back to the edge of the city.

Nato in Brussels said alliance warplanes hit eight targets in the Zliten area on Sunday — four command and control nodes, one military facility, a weapons dump, an anti-tank weapon and a multiple rocket launcher.

The alliance also hit four targets in the area of the eastern oil hub of Brega, including two tanks, and five targets in Tripoli — four of them anti-aircraft systems, a day after a heavy bombardment of the city.

‘Back to normal’
A rebel military spokesperson for the Brega region, Mohamed Zawawi, said fighters at the front had reported receiving little incoming on Monday.

Meanwhile, rebels held onto Bir Ghanam early on Monday, an Agence France-Presse journalist said. “The rebels are controlling the checkpoints. There are no shots,” the journalist said, adding that Nato warplanes were overhead.

In Tripoli, Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmudi earlier told reporters that government troops had recaptured the town. “Life is back to normal in Bir Ghanam, and today it is under the full control of the regime,” he said.

Mahmudi also condemned the intensification of Nato raids on Tripoli and other cities, claiming that the alliance no longer “differentiates between civilian and military sites”.

Rebels from the Berber-dominated Nafusa Mountains south of Tripoli reported taking Bir Ghanam just 80km from the capital, on Saturday, as they pushed further east.

The rebels have been using the Nafusa range as a springboard to advance on Tripoli but have encountered strong resistance.

A rebel source from al-Qusbat, 90km east of Tripoli, said that town was still under siege. On Monday morning, there was no phone contact with the town.

Planning ahead
Rebels on Thursday overran Gaddafi forces based in one of the town’s schools, but since then they have been battling to hold on to their gains.

Meanwhile, the London Times reported on Monday that a rebel blueprint for a post-Gaddafi Libya would retain much of the current regime’s infrastructure in the hope of averting an Iraq-style descent into chaos.

A 70-page plan prepared by the rebel National Transitional Council with help from Western powers and seen by the paper concedes they have little chance of toppling Gaddafi but forecast that internal divisions would force him out.

In that event, the rebels plan to establish a 10 000 to 15 000 strong “Tripoli task force” to secure the capital and capture prominent Gaddafi supporters.

Abound 5 000 policemen will be recruited to serve as the interim government’s security forces, according to the plan.

The rebels claim that 800 current Gaddafi government officials have already been recruited to their cause, and could form a key plank of a post-conflict security apparatus, the Times reported.

The document also maps out how telecommunications, power and transport infrastructure will be secured in the immediate hours after the regime’s collapse.

The plan relies heavily on defections, which threatens to cause friction with those within the rebel faction who want a complete purge of the existing order. — AFP

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Andrew Beatty
Andrew Beatty
European. Ulsterman. @AFP News Editor for Australasia. Recovering White House correspondent. Ex Southern Africa/Libya/Fed/LatAm/EU

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