Libya: 'We win or we die'

Libyan rebels continue their struggle against Muammer Gaddafi loyalists; for the rebels it is a matter of life or death.

    Libyan rebel fighters carry a comrade wounded during house-to-house fighting [GALLO/GETTY]

    "You rats, you sons of rats, we are coming to get you." The voice of the regime loyalist crackled on the rebel radio.

    Under the pine trees behind a sand barrier defence on Misurata's western front line, the boys of the Martyr brigade laughed, and returned a torrent of insults. The group's anti-aircraft gun was pointed outwards to the open expanse of fields where the loyalist troops roam.

    The bonds between the young men were forged in the urban battles that raged for months on Misurata's Tripoli Street. Now they are to learning adapt to the front line of open war.

    For more than a month, the fighters have been stationed at the end of a dirt track that delineates the western front line at Dafniya. Long range shelling; pounding mortars, BM21 'Grad' missiles, and katyusha rockets define their new war.

    "Before we were street fighters, you slept on one road, whilst the enemy slept next door. Kalashnikovs were useful. Here we are fighting in open fields, we need bigger weapons and new tactics," said fighter Hazem Abu Zeid, 29.

    Life and death

    They lack heavy munitions, with Grad rocket launchers being few and far between. The weapons they do have are captured by running incursions into enemy ground. "This is the good weapon!" said Salah Mabrook, spying a rusty antiquated anti-aircraft gun on a green leopard print painted Toyota pickup that they took in battle.

    Every Friday forces loyal to Colonel Muammer Gaddafi have launched massive offensives on their position. Friday in mid-June, a day that still sends shivers down their spines, was second bloodiest day for the rebel fighters since the battled moved to the city; over 30 of their comrades were killed, and 150 injured.

    "A fighter plucked a piece of shrapnel beside a pillow. "This is the piece of rocket that killed our friend...a lot of them have died beside me, just shot in the head."

    Hazem Abu Zeid, rebel fighter

    A crater of splattered shrapnel marks in the road beside the fighters'. Mattresses marks where one of the rockets exploded. A fighter plucked a piece of shrapnel beside a pillow. "This is the piece of rocket killed our friend Ali Seck. We feel such sorrow for our friends, a lot of them have died beside me, just shot in the head," said Zeid.

    Every Thursday, Misurata braces herself for attack. Rebels clean and load their Kalashnikovs, medical staff organise emergency room teams and prepare surgical instrument sets. The elderly and their children scurry to buy provisions so that they won't have to go outdoors on Friday. Housewives cook meals for the rebels on the front lines.

    Rebels gathered on the beach, running, and diving into the crashing waves. As the sun sank on the horizon silence fell on the group as they contemplated what tomorrow would bring. "Maybe tomorrow I will be dead," said a young fighter nicknamed 'Ronaldo' for his love of football. 

    But as members of the Misurata council declared that their fighters could not again suffer such an attack, on the front line rebel youths stand determined to fight.

    War stories

    I went forward with the young brigade to within 400m of the Gaddafi forces. The brigade provided a barrage of cover fire for their diggers that advanced to push defences further into enemy territory. Bullets flew fast from the thickets where regime soldiers hit.

    Back at the 'base' - a sheet hung in the trees for shade - they told war stories. Sitting on pillows, a shisha pipe bubbling in the corner, with mortars whistling overhead, 'Hefta' - named after Libya's famed rebel commander Khalifa Hefta and wearing a  t-shirt displaying the words 'Never Walk Alone' -  spoke: "And we went forward until we were within twenty metres of the Gaddafi men. We said "drop your weapons and come here." They replied "you are going to die," and opened their guns on us. But we killed so many. They left dragging their dead behind them." The boys cheered.

    All the young men were students in English, and engineering, or businessmen before the war changed their lives.

    Their youthful passions come through in the slow times of the war. A young man grabbed the spout of the tanker filled with water supplies and unleashed a giant arc of water on the men. They ran and jumped in the spray. Another fighter cycled on a child's bike, his FN rifle clanking by his side.

    Zeid's passion, he explained, is metallica music. "I mix war with music. Death metal gives the real part of humanity; most music talks about love, beaches, cars, but this talks about real things, brutality, poverty, the soul." His Iron Maiden T-shirt denoting the slogan 'matters of life and death' made for the perfect war gear.

    "I have to stay on the front line, I can't go back to my home and wait for Gaddafi to come and kill my family. We win or we die," added Zaid his face turning somber.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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