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Frustrated Libyan rebels angry at Bin Jawad defeat

Ragtag Libyan rebels limped back from the front Sunday, squabbling over a bitter defeat at Bin Jawad and arguing over how to bring down Muammar Gaddafi with little more than Kalashnikovs

AFP , Monday 7 Mar 2011

Previously sky-high morale plummeted among the rebels after they were pushed back from the tiny hamlet near the Mediterranean, the furthest west they had advanced from their eastern bastion in their uprising against the Libyan strongman.

"We retreated from Bin Jawad. Ras Lanuf will be our line of defence. Yesterday we were able to go further than Bin Jawad but militiamen infiltrated it by night," rebel Aqil al-Fars told AFP.

"Everything was fine until yesterday," said Fathi al-Gadaf, a former soldier who recently joined the rebel forces.

"At 5:30 am we met women in the street. They said their houses had been occupied gesturing with their hands. A few soldiers were hiding and they launched the ambush," added Gadaf.

Rebels said Gaddafi loyalists had lured them into a trap, secreting themselves in homes, mingling with civilians and hunkering down on rooftops. As rebels drove on, oblivious to the hidden threat, they unleashed a massive salvo of fire.

"This is what pushed us back. This is what got us out of Bin Jawad," shouted one rebel, jumping out of a car with part of a shell cradled in his arms.
Those who spoke to AFP after fleeing the latest battle said they were powerless in the face of heavy machine gun fire and air strikes, despite having already captured much of eastern Libya.

Down the road in nearby Ras Lanuf, which cheering rebels endured heavy fighting to capture on Friday, young men argued and nerves frayed as medics in screeching ambulances rushed in casualties from the front.

One group stood round a pick-up truck filled with rocket launchers, arguing about what had gone wrong and how they should proceed.

"Whoever has a weapon should advance and fight," said one rebel.

"But we only have light weapons," said another.

"Well either that or we should all go back to Benghazi," insisted the first man. Another man just shook his head. "The problem is we have no leadership."

"What about Colonel Bashir," said someone else, referring to one of the rebel commanders most widely known in Ras Lanuf, particularly among reporters.
But the first man was unimpressed. "Who is this Colonel Bashir? I've never heard of him," he retorted.

Two others argued outside Ras Lanuf hospital as a loudhailer atop an ambulance yelled warnings to rebels not to gather in groups.
"They're hitting them in groups," one medic shouted.

"Whoever has a gun, go now and fight in Bin Jawad," said one rebel.
"No, no this is how we'll start the civil war," hit back the other.

After seizing towns strung out along the glistening Mediterranean coast of the North African state, capturing key oil installations and army barracks, rebels have vowed to march on Tripoli to bring down Kadhafi.

A slowing of their momentum early last week did little to deter supporters in the rebels' stronghold of Benghazi, Libya's second biggest city, but on Sunday there was frustration at being outgunned by the loyalists.

"First of all, they let us get inside the town, then they opened fire on us with everything they had," said one rebel, who gave his name only as Mohammad.
"Here, you're going at them on open ground. They can pick you off with their Grad missiles," he said, in reference to the flat, desert plateau.
Bloodied casualties stretchered into a small hospital shouted of betrayal.

His scalp grazed by a bullet, 21-year-old Abdul Ali Abdulkhair tried to lift himself out of bed and raised his fingers to flash the rebels' trademark V for victory sign as soon as he saw an AFP reporter.

"Really I'm very, very comfortable. I'm just perfect right now," he claimed, launching into a chant mocking the Libyan strongman's battle cry: "Alley by alley, room by room, we're going to come and get you Gaddafi."

"We were combing Bin Jawad and when we went on the main road, they hit us with the heavy machine guns," said Abdulkhair, a volunteer from Al-Baida, a town far to the east.
A French cameraman shot in the leg while travelling in a car with a group of rebels said his shattered camera saved his life.

When the bullet pierced his calf, he fell to the floor on his back. Despite the pain, he managed to take a quick photograph of a Libyan fighter lying on his stomach in a sand dune, shooting, and his own burning video camera.
"That was my camera. It saved my life," the journalist said.

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