Air strike on rebel-held Libyan oil town

Sunday 6 Mar 2011

Gaddafi loyal air forces launch air strikes in the town of Ras Lanuf. State TV makes bogus announcement that Gaddafi retook the town

Rebel fighters fire an anti-aircraft gun near Bin Jawad (Reuters)

A warplane struck Ras Lanuf on Sunday, just minutes after rebels holding the Libyan oil town scoffed at state-owned television claims of its recapture by regime loyalists.

"There were two rockets. There are no injuries, no damage," said Abdal Sharif, one of the rebels fighting the regime of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Anti-aircraft guns at the checkpoint opened fire and people ran out into the street near the oil compound.

AFP reporters saw two craters measuring two metres (six feet) across, about 20 metres from the road and 50 metres from the checkpoint. Just minutes earlier, Colonel Bashir al-Moghrabi, one of the rebel leaders in Ras Lanuf, rubbished claims that Gaddafi's forces had retaken the strategic oil site.

"Gaddafi says they took back Ras Lanuf, but we are still here in Ras Lanuf and not only here, but further [west]," he told reporters outside the only hotel in the town. AFP correspondents are among a number of foreign journalists staying in a hotel on the western outskirts of Ras Lanuf and there were no sounds of any fighting around the town during the night.

"There were no clashes during the night, the town is under our control," another rebel fighter told AFP.

A Libyan state television channel had reported earlier that the town had been recaptured by loyalist forces, along with the third city of Misrata, between Tripoli and Sirte, and Tobruk, which controls the road to the Egyptian border.

Those claims set off celebrations in the capital Tripoli as soldiers fired their weapons into the air and drivers honked horns and waved national flags; a scene foreign journalists in the city were invited to witness.

"We are shooting to celebrate because we are beating Al-Qaeda. We have won, Al-Qaeda is gone," one soldier told AFP.

The rebels have vowed to march on Sirte, Gaddafi's home town about 150 kilometres from Bin Jawad, which was the furthest point AFP saw them deployed along the Mediterranean coast on Saturday.

When asked when they would move on Sirte Moghrabi said: "We don't know. All the soldiers are coming from Benghazi" but said the rebels believe regime loyalists were reinforcing themselves in the symbolic town.

He claimed there were 8,000 rebel fighters deployed from the Egyptian border to Nofilia, just a short distance from Bin Jawad.

"We are not going to Sirte to kill our brothers. We have communication with our brothers in Misrata and Zawiyah and they say it's also under our control."

When asked about reports that Gaddafi loyalists were approaching, Moghrabi said: "Yes, it's true. We had the information yesterday. We think they're in Sirte now."

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