Libyan rebels reclaim key western village

Rebels reclaim Qawalish, just hours after Gaddafi forces had taken the strategically important village.

    The rebels faced a tough task in trying to take the town of Asabah [Reuters]

    Libyan rebel fighters say they have retaken the village of Qawalish in western Libya from forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.

    The village fell to Gaddafi forces earlier on Wednesday, but the rebels said they had staged a successful counter-attack to seize it back, rebel spokesman Abdurahman Alzintani, told the Reuters news agency.

    The village lies about 100km south of Tripoli and is key to rebel plans to advance on the capital.

    Gaddafi's forces had initially overran the rebel advance positions around the desert hamlet.

    Al Jazeera's James Bays, reporting from the Nafusa Mountains, said this had been the most testing day militarily for the rebels who first wrested the town from Gaddafi's control just seven days ago.

    In other fighting, at least two rockets filled with ball bearings crashed down on the rebel-held eastern Libyan town of Ajdabiya on Wednesday, injuring four people and causing extensive damage to three homes.

    Witnesses heard the sound of incoming fire at around 0700 GMT before two large explosions scattered hundreds of metal projectiles, as well as shrapnel, though the air.

    At least four civilians suffered puncture wounds and two cars were destroyed in the blasts, which were large enough to knock down external walls, collapse roofs, and punch glass from doors and windows deep into interior rooms.

    In the attack blamed on Gaddafi forces, the two rockets hit around one kilometre apart in the busy city centre, the AFP news agency said.

    Deal 'impossible'

    As the fighting rages, rebels in the Nafusa Mountains said a peace deal was "impossible," as Gaddafi refuses to step down.

    "Up to now it is impossible to get a political solution. Gaddafi wants to stay; the rebels don't want [that]," said Colonel Juma Brahim, head of the rebels' operational command for the region.

    According to Al Jazeera sources, Mahmoud Jibril, the head of the Libyan executive office for the National Transitional Council (NTC), which represents the rebels, has denied that there was any comprehensive political initiative on the table for resolving the conflict in Libya.

        France elects to continue Libya offensive

    Jibril was speaking at a press conference held in Brussels after concluding talks he had held with NATO officials.

    The meeting reviewed questions related to statements made by French prime minister François Fillon in which he said signs of a political solution in Libya were beginning to emerge.

    On Tuesday, France "contact" with emissaries from the Libyan leadership had been made about Gaddafi's willingness to step down.

    French and Libyan officials said the chances of negotiating Gaddafi's withdrawal from power and an end to the conflict still wracking the country after months of military stalemate were within reach.

    Brahim said it was "difficult to understand" the position of France, which has been one of the main players in the NATO-led coalition which has been conducting an air war against Gaddafi's forces.

    French aircraft has carried out controversial arms drops to fighters under the rebel colonel's command.

    "On one side she helps you, on the other side [she is] talking to the regime of Gaddafi. Politically it is possible but militarily it is not possible," he said.

    "It is good when everything is on one side - with him or with us." 

    Military base

    Wednesday's taking of Qawalish comes just two days after rebels spoke of launching a major advance, eyeing the Gaddafi-held towns of Asabah and Gharyan at the eastern end of the Nafusa Mountains and a gateway to the capital

    The rebels faced a tough task in trying to take the town of Asabah, which is home to prominent families close to the regime.

    It has a large military base and a population largely faithful to the regime. The Libyan leader felt comfortable enough to have a country house there.

    Since the rebels took the hamlet of Gualish on Wednesday, 17km from Asabah, they have been awaiting the green light from NATO to advance.

    "We don't know when, but there will be a battle, and soon," said Brahim.

    Abuse claims

    In other developments on Wednesday, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands became the latest countries to recognise the NTC as the Libyan people's legitimate representative, Belgian foreign minister Steven Vanackere said.

    The announcement came ahead of a meeting Vanackere and his Dutch and Luxembourg counterparts were to hold with a rebel delegation.

    At least 25 countries have publicly recognised the NTC as legitimately representing the Libyan people. 

    Others have implicitly recognised the council as a political force, for example by visiting its leaders in its Benghazi stronghold, or hosting them for talks, but have stopped short of fully recognising it as representing the Libyan people.

    The delegation, led by NTC leader Mahmoud Jibril, held talks earlier on Wednesday with NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the alliance's ambassadors at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

    Following that meeting, Jibril rejected accusations by Human Rights Watch (HRW) that anti-Gaddafi forces had been responsible for looting, arson and abusing civilians.

    He admitted a "few incidents" of abuse took place in the first two weeks of the conflict, which began in mid-February, but "this is no longer the case in the liberated areas".

    HRW said it "witnessed some of these acts, interviewed witnesses to others and spoke with a rebel commander about the abuses".

    The abuses were said to have taken place in June and July, as recently as last week, as rebel forces pushed through the Nafusa Mountains.

    "The rebel authorities have a duty to protect civilians and their property, especially hospitals, and discipline anyone responsible for looting or other abuse," said HRW's Joe Stork.

    Russian snub

    Russia on Wednesday turned down an invitation to join upcoming Libya discussions as part of a contact group of major powers and insisted that all decisions on the conflict be made by the UN.

    Turkey had earlier invited China along with Russia to attend a meeting scheduled for Friday in Istanbul.

    The Russian foreign ministry said Moscow had received other such offers and had always turned them down in the past.

    "We are not a part of this group and do not take part in its activities.  And the same holds true for the upcoming meeting in Istanbul," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

    Meanwhile, Italy said a shift among some African leaders to discuss a Libya without Gaddafi is a significant development that should help spur a political resolution to the conflict.

    Maurizio Massari, an Italian foreign ministry spokesman, said there was now a "convergence" with the African Union about negotiating a post-Gaddafi Libya that was "important" as countries involved in the Libya campaign begin to plot next steps on a political transition.

    NATO's 'war criminal'

    Libya's prosecutor charged NATO's military leader with war crimes for killing innocent civilians and the bombardment of civilian targets in Libyain court on Wednesday.

    Libya general prosecutor Mohammed Zekri al Mahjoubi described NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen as a war criminal during a press conference in Tripoli.

    "The first charge of being a war criminal, he attempted to kill the brother leader Colonel Muammar Abu Meniar al Gaddafi and his family by bombarding his residence with missiles but his aim has not been achieved because the missile did not hit them," he said.

    Al Mahjoubi accused NATO of killing more than 1,108 unarmed civilians and wounding 4,537 others others since March.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


    Interactive: How does your country vote at the UN?

    Interactive: How does your country vote at the UN?

    Explore how your country voted on global issues since 1946, as the world gears up for the 74th UN General Assembly.

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    We dialled more than 35,000 random phone numbers to paint an accurate picture of displacement across South Sudan.

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Meet the man on a mission to take down Cambodia's timber tycoons and expose a rampant illegal cross-border trade.