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Africa
Key Libyan village back in rebel hands
Opposition forces dig in to defend recaptured Qwalish, south of the Libyan capital, and plan new offensive in the east.
Last Modified: 14 Jul 2011 11:15

Libyan rebel fighters are digging in to defend a village south of Tripoli following a see-saw battle for control with government forces that has seen control of the village change hands several times.

Rebel fighters took Qwalish, a staging post on the way to the capital about 100km north, a week ago, then lost it to government troops on Wednesday morning. But by nightfall they were back in control.

Scores of fighters manned defensive positions throughout Qwalish on Thursday, supported by trucks with heavy machine guns mounted on the back.

That was in contrast to the light defences in place on Wednesday morning when forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi quickly overran the village.

"We came yesterday and we stayed here and we said we are not moving until the place is secure," said one rebel fighter who was manning a machine gun and gave his name as Tommy.

"This mistake is not going to happen again. We're not going home."

Rebels said forces loyal to Gaddafi, who were now positioned a short distance to the east, had shelled the village overnight but stopped after dawn. A NATO aircraft could be heard overhead.

Scores of Libyan rebels manned defensive positions near the flashpoint hilltop town of Qwalish [AFP]

Control of Qwalish is strategically important because it allows the rebels to come down from their mountain stronghold and move towards the town of Garyan, which controls access to the main highway leading north to Tripoli.

Mohammed al-Bujdidi, a local rebel commander, said there were now many more fighters in Qwalish to stop pro-Gaddafi forces counter-attacking again.

"We do acknowledge that we made mistakes. Some of the Gaddafi forces were able to sneak past us with the support of collaborators," he said.

There were still signs of Wednesday evening's battle for control. Outside the village's eastern edge, the corpses of two young pro-Gaddafi soldiers lay in the road.

Rebels also said they had taken prisoner two government officers who, they said, were mercenaries from Mali.

Tommy, the rebel fighter, said that when the rebels fought their way back into Qwalish they found the bodies of three of their comrades who, he said, had been executed by government forces.

He said one of the dead men had been shot at short range with a large-calibre machine gun. "You could not even recognise his face," he said.

In the east, meanwhile, Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught reported from Ajdabiya that rebels were preparing to launch another major offensive.

Fighters will push along the coastal front to take a crucial oil port, the first ambitious offensive in more than two months, our correspondent said.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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