Libya's rebels to fight on through Ramadan

AFP , Monday 1 Aug 2011

Rebels in Libya decides to resume fighting during Ramadan

Ramadan will not hinder the Libyan rebels from calling to their freedom cause (Photo:Reuters)

They have both gained and lost ground on the plain at the foot of the Nafusa mountains in western Libya in clashes with Moamer Kadhafi's forces, and the rebels plan to fight on during Ramadan.

Both officers and fighters who spoke to AFP agreed there was no question of stopping what they see as their march on Tripoli 100 kilometres (60 miles) to the north because of Monday's start of the annual Muslim fasting month.

"Yes, Ramadan is beginning but we will continue to fight," said Colonel Juma Brahim, head of the rebel fighters' operational command in the Nafusa region, in his command post in Zintan.

On Sunday his men took the village of Josh on the road nestling at the foot of the Nafusa cliffs, at a cost of eight dead and around 20 wounded. Loyalist forces retook the village on Monday.

"The Koran specifically says the sick, travellers and combatants do not have to respect the fast if they are unable to," Brahim said of the dawn-to-dusk fast observant Muslims are expected to adhere to during Ramadan.

"Our cause is also sacred -- it's a jihad. There is no question of us giving Kadhafi the advantage, especially since he's in a poor position. This is not the moment" to stop fighting, he added.

Before Kadhafi's troops retook Josh, Brahim said he expected to see the rebels try to advance on the village of Tiji further to the east along the same road.

If they do eventually take Tiji, the rebels will have seized a major part of the road through the valley, piling the pressure on loyalist forces.

In the village of Kabao, further to the east towards the border with Tunisia, Colonel Tareq Zambu agrees with his rebel compatriot.

"The fatwas are clear," he said of religious decrees. "Our men are excused from fasting since they are fighting. That said, if those not on the front line or in the rear or are training want to fast, they can."

Akram Ramadan, 43, in khaki sunhat and sporting huge sunglasses, said he left the British city of Manchester four months ago to come and fight for the same anti-Kadhafi cause as his father, and that resulted in his exile.

"There'll be time to fast next year, when we are free," he smiled.

"The Prophet, peace be upon him, fought two battles during the holy month. In fact, it's a good month to fight and maybe die. You are closer to God."

On Sunday afternoon, the eve of Ramadan, the sound of cannon fire rumbled up the mountain valleys from the plain below, as clashes between the Libyan strongman's forces and the rebels raged.

In the villages of the Nafusa range, which for months now have no longer been under the thumb of the Tripoli regime, men took advantage of lower temperatures and a fresh breeze as the sun set to buy pre-Ramadan supplies.

But the fare at this year's iftar -- the nightly meal when the day's fast is broken, and traditionally a sumptuous affair -- is likely to be frugal indeed.

Supply lines to the rest of the country have been cut, and foodstuffs are hard to get and come in small quantities from Tunisia.

Once-bulging shelves in the mini-markets are empty or nearly so, fresh produce is practically unheard of, and the stalls of rare roadside markets offer only tired-looking vegetables at inflated prices amid a shortage of cash.

Khalifa Mohammed Ali comes back from his shopping expedition with a plastic bag containing nine red plums.

"Yes, a lot of things are unavailable," he told AFP.

"But the important thing in a time of war is that we win. If God wills it, the crisis will end. What we really want is dignity."

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