Fierce fighting erupts in western Libya

Rebels battle troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi as they attempt to seize town between Zintan and Yafran.

    Intense fighting has erupted between forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and rebels near the western town of Zintan.

    Al Jazeera's James Bays, reporting from the frontlines, said Sunday's fighting began as rebels seeking to end Gaddafi's four-decades-long rule launched an offensive to seize a town that lay in between the towns of Zintan and Yafran.

    "Opposition wanted to remove Gaddafi troops - they started from both sides. They pretty much had Gaddafi troops cornered, but the Gaddafi troops have heavy weapons," our correspondent said.

    "We were in a trench earlier, which we thought was a safe position. But then we saw Gaddafi troops coming towards us so we had to leave."

    The renewed fighting came amid reports that El-Khouwildy el-Ahmeildy, a senior aide Gaddafi  had been wounded in a NATO air strike on a city near Tripoli.

    Ahmed Bani, a rebel military spokesman, told the Reuters news agency from the opposition-stronghold of Benghazi that "el-Ahmeildy is being treated in a hospital" after suffering injuries on Saturday.

    He further said that el-Ahmeildy was a member of Gaddafi's Council of the Leaders of the Revolution and that his daughter was married to one of Gaddafi's sons.

    However, Bani's claim could not be independently confirmed.

    Rebel gain

    Battles for control of the African country raged elsewhere as well with the rebels, bolstered by NATO air strikes sanctioned by the UN, launching fresh assaults to wrest control of more territory.

    The rebels fought their way back into Zawiyah, a major oil port just 50km west of Tripoli, forcing Gaddafi's troops to shut down the vital coastal highway that leads into neighbouring Tunisia.

    Guma el-Gamaty, a London-based spokesman for the opposition political leadership council, told the Associated Press news agency on Saturday that rebel fighters had taken control of a large area in Zawiyah's west.

    Witnesses and rebel fighters said gun battles were raging inside the port city.

    "The situation is very bad in Zawiyah. There's been fierce fighting since the morning," Mohammed, a Zawiyah resident who gave only his first name, told the Reuters news agency.

    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.

    Since then rebels were left with tenuous footholds in Libya's far west near its border with Tunisia.

    Foreign journalists travelling through Zawiyah on the coastal highway leading from west Tripoli to the Tunisian border, reported that they were diverted via backstreets with a police escort as parts of it were sealed off by Libyan soldiers.

    The highway was clogged with soldiers and loyalist gunmen carrying assault rifles, some patrolling the road, others manning checkpoints.

    The coastal road is a key artery from neighbouring Tunisia for delivery for food, fuel and medicine for the Gaddafi regime.

    Misurata shelled

    Gaddafi's forces also sporadically shelled the rebel-held city of Misurata in Libya's west, where clashes from the previous day had killed 31 people.

    Al Jazeera's Tony Birtley, reporting from Al Dafniya, 30km from Misurata, said it had been "a bloody day in terms of casualties".

    Al Jazeera's Tony Birtley reports

    "For nine intensive hours bombardments were non-stop. We were at a former garage workshop that has been turned into a mash unit, and body after body after casualty was being brought in there. It was complete mayhem.

    "They can do the absolute basic surgery there to help them out and hopefully they can keep them alive long enough to bring them to Misurata for more intensive treatment."

    Gaddafi forces also shelled the world heritage-listed Berber city of Gadamis for the first time, about 600km southwest of the capital on the Tunisia and Algerian border, opening a new front in the five-month long civil war.

    Under pressure to come up with plans for a transitional government while still in disarray, the rebels have said the onus is on foreign powers to hasten assistance.

    "Our people are dying," Ali Tarhouni, the rebel oil and finance minister, said. "So my message to our friends is that I hope they walk the walk."

    NATO member-state Turkey said that Gaddafi has no way out but to leave Libya, and offered him an exit.

    Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said, "We said we will help you leave for where ever you would like."

    "Gaddafi has no way out but to leave Libya, through the guarantees given to him, it seems."

    Erdogan added, "We ourselves have offered him this guarantee, via the representatives we've sent. We told him we would help him to be sent wherever he wanted to be sent. We would discuss the issue with our allies, according to the response we receive."

    However, he added that Turkey had received no response from Gaddafi regarding the deal.

    "I have contacted him six or seven times. I sent our special representatives, but we always faced stalling tactics. They tell us they want a ceasefire, we tell them to take a step, but the next day you find out that some places were bombed."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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