Fresh air strike as Libyan rebels advance

AFP , Friday 4 Mar 2011

Strikes continue against eastern rebel strongholds as Gaddafi loyalists try to regain ground

Libya
A rebel aims a multiple rocket launcher in Brega, Friday, (Reuters).

Libyan forces launched a fresh air strike on rebel territory in the east on Friday as pumped-up opposition fighters pushed forward the frontline against Muammar Gaddafi's regime.

There were no casualties or damage as a government jet bombed an opposition-controlled military base on the outskirts of the strategic eastern town of Ajdabiya on the third straight day of air strikes.

"There was a bomb outside the military base near Ajdabiya," said Mohammad Abdallah, a rebel fighter at the last checkpoint of the town on the road to Brega, where rebels repelled a government counter-offensive on Wednesday.

Other rebels also reported the air strike.

It came as rebel fighters pushed the frontline forward, heading west along the main coastal road out of Uqayla, a tiny village 175 miles (280 kilometres) from the main rebel headquarters in Benghazi, Libya's second city.

An AFP reporter about five miles west of Uqayla saw about six pick-up trucks mounted with heavy machine guns heading still further west, towards the oil port of Ras Lanuf.

Pushing the frontline west helps protect the Mediterranean towns of Brega, with its oil refinery, and Ajdabiya, a key road junction, which are vital if Gaddafi's forces are not to isolate them from the rest of the country.

Captain Shoaib al-Akaki, who defected from the military, expressed concern about internecine fighting.

"We're trying to minimise losses on both sides. You know in Libya, we're all relatives. We're a country of tribes. We all have relatives in Sirte," he said, referring to a coastal town where Gaddafi was born.

He claimed about 20 cars and trucks filled with relief supplies had been sent back further east to Brega, where rebels were killed and wounded in the regime offensive.

A patchwork coalition of rebels controls eastern Libya and some towns in the west following a revolt that started on February 15, but Gaddafi, who has ruled for four decades, retains his grip on the capital Tripoli.

But in Brega, Captain Mohammad Abdullah said the rebel's military command was not encouraging people to head to Rasnaluf because Gaddafi's troops "have taken high ground" there.

"There'll be a massacre if people go there, but civilian volunteers are fired up, they are no longer afraid of anything," he said.

He claimed hundreds of rebels had gone in that direction and were now 20 kilometres west of Uqayla and were waiting for reinforcements. He also claimed regime troops were out in the desert with heavy equipment. Neither statement could be independently verified.

"From intelligence we're getting, the (pro-Gaddafi) group from the south disobeyed orders and started heading out west and some officers refused to carry out orders, that seems to have delayed their invasion plan," he said.

In Brega, about 50 rebels armed with shoulder fired anti-aircraft weapons have set up a checkpoint outside the gates of the Sirte Oil Company, the scene of heavy fighting on Wednesday.

They fired into the air for no reason and appeared pumped up.

"We expect them to come here at any moment. If they take this place over, they'll cut off our power (ie the power in Benghazi)," said Ali al-Hudari, 38, a volunteer fighter and labourer from Benghazi.

An AFP reporter saw a group of cars heading out of Ajdabiya towards Brega. One group came from the eastern town of Al-Baida while another car came from Tobruk, nearer the Egyptian border.

"This is the time of jihad," said Mohammad, 35, who works in a bank in Tobruk said he had come to fight with a group of friends.

The air strike in Ajdabiya was the latest in a series targeting a military barracks.

Another AFP reporter on Friday saw crates upon crates of abandoned ammunition inside the barracks. A warehouse was full of anti-tank rockets, bazookas and rocket launchers, the reporter said.

In Ajdabiya, about 10 shops were open but the streets were deserted, in keeping with usual custom early Friday, the Muslim day of rest and the start of the Libyan weekend.

In Benghazi, there were scenes of chaos as young men pushed and shoved each other to grab old Libyan flags which organisers handed out ahead of a rally planned after Friday prayers, an AFP reporter said.

Opposition groups have also called for protests in the capital Tripoli.

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