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Rebels battle Gaddafi forces in western Libya
Opposition fighters reject claims that Zawiyah is under government control while battles rage in flashpoint locations.
Last Modified: 12 Jun 2011 21:45

 
Al Jazeera's James Bays and his team came under fire while reporting on the fierce fighting in western Libya

Rebels and forces of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi have fought over Zawiyah, a major oil port just 50km west of Tripoli, and in locations across the North African country.

Libya's government said it has stopped opposition fighters from entering Zawiyah but rebels said they were continuing to fight for the town on Sunday, after hours of battles.

Mussa Ibrahim, the government spokesman, said that Gaddafi's forces had "total control" of the area from Ajdabiya in the east to the Tunisian border in the west.

"It is pockets of resistance. The rebels there are no more than a hundred. The army has killed some of them, captured others and is negotiating the surrender of others," he said.


Thirteen people were reported killed in clashes in Zawiyah.

When government officials took reporters from Tripoli to Zawiyah to show that the city was under government control, a Reuters journalist reported hearing shots being fired near the central square.

Rebels said they had taken control of a large area in Zawiyah's west.

Anti-Gaddafi forces gained control of the city in March but lost it two weeks later in an assault by an elite brigade commanded by Gaddafi's son Khamis.

NATO action

The developments came as NATO said it was taking "necessary action" to protect civilians west of Tripoli because they were under threat of attacks for openly challenging the regime.

"NATO is monitoring the situation closely and is taking necessary action to protect civilians," a statement said.

"Libyans long tired of Gaddafi's rule are challenging his legitimacy openly, and in doing so, are under threat of attack," the NATO statement said.

"Earlier today, east of Tripoli, an armoured vehicle with anti-aircraft guns was struck as it moved to threaten civilians, other targets struck in the area included a multiple rocket launcher and an anti-aircraft weapon system."

Meanwhile, Libyan state television broadcast pictures of Gaddafi meeting Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the Russian head of the International Chess Federation.

Russia's Interfax news agency quoted Ilyumzhinov as saying he played a game of chess in Tripoli with Gaddafi, who said he had no plans to stand down or leave his country.

"Gaddafi stated that he is not going to leave Libya, stressing that it is his motherland and a land where his children and grandchildren died," Ilyumzhinov told Russia's Interfax news agency.

Misurata deaths

Elsewhere in Libya, doctors at Misurata's Hikma hospital said on Sunday that six people were killed in shelling of the contested western city and 16 more were wounded.

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One was a civilian woman killed when a Grad missile crashed through the roof of her home. The doctors refused to allow use of their names, fearing retribution.

Rebel fighters said they had captured 10 prisoners of Gaddafi forces and destroyed a number of vehicles in southern Misurata.

Further clashes were reported farther east, around the oil port of Brega. Rebels said 25 of their fighters had been wounded and two killed.

An AFP correspondent also said Gaddafi's forces pounded the outskirts of Zintan on Sunday, killing at least seven rebels.

Government forces posted a few kilometres east of Zintan, which remains under rebel control, fired Grad and Katyusha rockets at the town. 

UAE recognition

In another development on Sunday, the United Arab Emirates said it had recognised the Libyan rebel council as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people.

"This recognition affirms that the UAE is committed to maintaining strong ties with the Libyan people," Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahayan, the UAE foreign minister, said in a statement carried by WAM, the state news agency.

"Based on this, UAE's dealing with the [rebel] Transitional National Council will take the form of a government-to-government relationship in all issues related to Libya."

Al Nahayan said the UAE will open a representative office in the opposition stronghold Benghazi soon.

Earlier, the council had won full recognition from Spain, France, Italy, Qatar and Jordan, while the US has invited the rebels to open an office in Washington.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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