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Strategic town Ajdabiya falls to Libya rebels: AFP

Ajdabiya is captured after the ousting of pro-Gaddafi forces

AFP , Saturday 26 Mar 2011
Libyan rebels take a rest on a checkpoint on the frontline near Zwitina, the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, eastern Libya, Thursday, 24 March 2011. (AP)

Libyan rebels moved into the strategic eastern town of Ajdabiya on Saturday, after a barrage of Western air strikes ousted Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces there, AFP reporters said.

The rebels powered into the town, leaving a trail of destroyed tanks and military vehicles along the road, in many cases the skeletons sitting next to huge craters left behind by powerful aerial strikes a day earlier.

"The tanks were firing on the houses non-stop. I couldn't move from my house for days," resident Ibrahim Saleh, 34, told AFP. "There was no water or fuel or communications, and when people went out even to get fuel they were fired on.

"The coalition air strikes were yesterday and the day before. They attacked from the skies and the revolutionaries came in afterwards and freed the city," he said.

Defensive positions previously held by pro-Gaddafi forces stood deserted on Saturday morning as rebels rolled in, tooting car horns and flashing the "V" for victory sign.

The roads were clear of any armoured forces loyal to Gaddafi, and the town's western gate was open as people poured into the town.

But many arriving from as far away as Brega, 80 kilometres (50 miles) to the west, reported having seen no sign of the fighters along the route, and the rebels had reportedly set up a new position about 40 kilometres west of Ajdabiya.

The bodies of at least two pro-Gaddafi fighters lay on the ground, surrounded by onlookers. One of the men, his body covered by blanket that bystanders whisked off to take photos, was missing most of his face.

At the entrance to the city on the road from Benghazi, the rebel's coastal stronghold, a mosque and many houses bore the scars of heavy shelling as the rebels celebrated, firing shots into the air and shouting "God is greater."

Regime loyalists had dug in after turning back from the road to Benghazi following the first coalition air strikes. They were accused by residents of brutalising the population.

Salim Ali, 40, accompanied by his eight-year-old son Anas, said Saturday was the first time he had left his house in six days.

"We heard the fighting all around us and huddled at home, trying to survive. There was no electricity, no way to leave the house. We survived by God's grace alone."

On Thursday and Friday, coalition warplanes pounded Gaddafi's forces entrenched in Ajdabiya, boosting rebel efforts to launch new offensives to recapture the city.

Ajdabiya is the first town to fall back into rebel hands since a coalition of Western forces launched UN-backed air strikes on March 19 to stop forces loyal to Gaddafi attacking civilians.

On Saturday morning, Libyans in the city hailed the fall of Ajdabiya as the first step towards a rebel recapture of several eastern towns that Gaddafi forces managed to take over during a westward march.

"I'm so happy, how could I not be," said Jomaa Faraj. "Now the rebels will move to Brega, and to Ras Lanuf, and soon we will be in Tripoli."


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