Rebels and Gaddafi forces battle in eastern and western Libya

A rebel soldier is carried into a hospital after being injured while fighting Gaddafi's troops in Ras Lanuf.
A rebel soldier is carried into a hospital after being injured while fighting Gaddafi's troops in Ras Lanuf. (John Moore)
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 10, 2011

BENGHAZI, LIBYA - Rebel forces in Libya engaged in intense fighting on two fronts Wednesday, claiming to break through a three-day standoff with government fighters in the town of Bin Jawwad but suffering another day of heavy casualties in the besieged western city of Zawiyah.

In Zawiyah, government forces were heavily shelling the main square, residents said, with airstrikes, tank and mortar fire, machine guns and artillery.

"We need some international aid here," said Mohammed, an opposition spokesman in the city, which was bombed for a sixth consecutive day by forces loyal to Moammar Gaddafi. "At least stop them from having airplanes fly over us."

The government said it had won control of Zawiyah, but those assertions could not be independently verified. Shortly before midnight, the government bussed journalists to a floodlit stadium that was apparently on the outskirts of the city. They were greeted by fireworks and a cheering crowd of about 300 people who chanted "God is great" and waved pictures of Gaddafi. There was no evidence of the fierce fighting that has occurred in Zawiyah.

Members of the crowd said they were celebrating the defeat of "troublemakers" but were vague about the details of the fighting or how many people had died.

A soldier, Ayman Kikly, 29, said the rebels fought with antiaircraft guns, rocket-propelled grenades and homemade bombs, but "the citizens who live here stood with the army, and they were outnumbered."

Medical workers compiling a list of the dead say the toll from the fighting in Zawiyah on Tuesday could be as high as 50, a resident said. No death toll was available for Wednesday.

Residents who were interviewed by satellite phone said communication within the city - which lies 27 miles west of Tripoli - is very difficult. All entrances to the city have been closed, Mohammed said, and it is impossible to bring in food or medicine.

Rebels soldier on

In Bin Jawwad, ground fighting resumed in an area that has been pounded by government airstrikes for three days. After losing the central coastal town in a bruising artillery battle Sunday, rebel forces made their first concerted effort to regain ground.

A witness close to the front said the anti-government fighters had managed to enter Bin Jawwad amid heavy fighting. When the news reached the opposition's provisional capital of Benghazi, streets erupted in cheers, honking and celebratory gunfire.

Taking Bin Jawwad, the town where Gaddafi loyalists have made a fierce stand and stalled the rebel march toward Tripoli, would be a welcome boost to the exhausted revolutionaries. Televised scenes of violent clashes in recent days have eroded the optimism many felt last week when rebel fighters racked up a string of victories along the coast.

"We've gone from a revolution to a war," said Salwa Bugaighis, a lawyer in Benghazi.

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