Battle rages on for strategic Libyan town

Rebel forces fail to take oil town of Brega after a fourth straight day of fighting, despite overnight air strikes.

Rebel fighters on a road outside Brega on April 4, 2011. Rebels have been forced to retreat from the oil town [Reuters]

Clashes have continued between pro-democracy troops and forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, at the key oil town of Brega, with the rebels saying they have taken control of a portion of the town.

On Monday, columns of opposition fighters drove up the main coastal highway, regaining ground they had given up the day before, but the effective use of artillery and landmines by Gaddafi’s troops kept them at bay.


Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton, reporting from the road to the east of Brega, said rebels had spotted trip wires in the sands on either side of the highway and were instructing fellow troops and journalists to stay on the pavement.

Human Rights Watch has reported that Gaddafi’s troops laid anti-tank and anti-personnel mines around Ajdabiya when they controlled the city last week.

The regime’s troops seem better able to hold onto ground than the untrained and undisciplined rebels; they dig entrenchments and have not retreated from Brega, even after another night of coalition air strikes on their positions on Sunday.

Doctors at the main hospital in Ajdabiya, the closest facility to the frontlines, told the Associated Press that one man was killed and three others wounded during Monday’s fighting.

Al Jazeera’s Turton reported that while no airstrikes were reported near Brega, aircraft were heard flying overhead throughout the day. Opposition forces were able to take the newer part of the town early in the day, and were using new weapons that had not previously been seen, she said.

“New Brega is under control of our forces and we are mopping up around the university,” said Lt Muftah Omar Hamza, a former member of the Libyan air force who has joined the rebels.

New Brega is a largely residential area, and is separated from the town’s oil facilities by a stretch of highway and a university campus.

Hundreds rescued from Misurata

Gaddafi’s offensive continued in other areas on Monday, as his troops continued to hit the Western town of Misurata, where residents say they have come under mortar and artillery fire, as well as tank shelling.

Reuters, quoting a doctor in Misurata, reported that five people had been confirmed to have died on Monday, with a further five critically injured.

Earlier, hundreds of wounded people had been rescued from the city. On Sunday, a Turkish hospital ship carrying more than 250 people, many of them wounded, from the besieged western town of Misurata arrived at the opposition stronghold of Benghazi.

The Ankara, a converted cruise ship, arrived under escort from two Turkish navy frigates and 10 air force F-16s. Doctors on board said that some of the injured need extensive treatment and will be flown to Turkey. They said they were forced to leave behind many more injured residents in Misurata.


Al Jazeera’s Laurence Lee reports from on board
the Turkish hospital ship in Benghazi

Swathed in bandages, evacuees on board, the vast majority of them men, gave one of the most detailed accounts yet of conditions in the last major rebel-held city in western Libya.

“It is very, very bad. In my street, Gaddafi bombed us,” 26-year-old Ibrahim al-Aradi told the Reuters news agency. “We have no water, no electricity. We don’t have medicine. There are snipers everywhere.”

Others spoke of Gaddafi’s forces bombing mosques and houses.

Hamen, a Libyan doctor who was accompanying the men, told Reuters: “Misurata is terrible. I have seen terrible things. Thirty people killed in one day. These are my patients. I must stay with them but I want to go back.”

Doctors say more than 240 people have been killed and over 1,000 wounded in Misurata in the last month, as Gaddafi’s forces have sought to retake the opposition bastion.

Little progress in the east

Rebels had managed to advance from Benghazi to Brega under coalition air cover, but they just briefly reached a walled university campus near the Brega’s western edge on Saturday before retreating.

Despite the foreign assistance and attempts to become more organised, the rebels’ military campaign has stalled. They continue to battle for the same stretch of about five kilometres around Brega.

The stalled rebel advance in the east has managed to survive through the intervention of an international military coalition assembled to enforce a UN Security Council resolution, passed in March, aimed at protecting Libyan civilians.

On Monday, NATO announced that the US would begin drawing down on its contribution to the military intervention in the country, withdrawing its combat aircraft and ceasing use of its Tomahawk cruise missiles by 2200GMT.

Meanwhile, in the opposition stronghold of Benghazi on Monday, opposition demonstrators called for NATO to “do more” to help the rebels in their fight against Muammar Gaddafi.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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