Battle for Libya intensifies | Gadhafi unleashes armour, artillery against rebels | Sustained gunfire breaks out in Tripoli
Forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, the long time Libyan leader, have attacked several rebel-held cities along the country’s coastline, in a bid to halt the anti-government forces’ rapid advance to the capital Tripoli.
But on Sunday, the rebels have repulsed the ferocious assaults, which left dozens dead, as the conflict escalates dramatically.
Since February 17, Gaddafi’s nearly 42-year-long rule is facing a popular uprising demanding democracy for the oil-rich north African nation.
With helicopter gunships, fighter planes and tanks, Gaddafi loyalists have pounded opposition fighters with artillery, rockets and gunfire in several cities, including Bin Jawad, Tobruk, Ras Lanuf and Misurata.
Bin Jawad, previously held by rebels, was reclaimed by government forces on Sunday, but opposition fighters continued to advance on the area amid conflicting claims about the capture and recapture of several strategic Libyan cities and towns.
Sources report deadly clashes took place in the area, that lies in the middle of the coastline between the opposition stronghold of Benghazi and the capital, Tripoli, over which Gaddafi retains a tight grip.
Injured opposition fighters had been taken to the local hospital in nearby Ras Lanuf, a rebel-held town.
Rebels in Misurata also beat back Gaddafi’s forces in heavy fighting that left 18 people killed, a local doctor told the Reuters news agency.
Mohammed Ali, a rebel leader and a member of the civil committee for Misurata affairs, has told Al Jazeera that opposition forces are in “firm control” of Misurata.
“We have also captured Gaddafi soldiers, and we will interrogate them. They will be shown on TV,” he said.
But Ali said that his fighters are outgunned and appealed for aerial support.
Heavy machine-gun fire erupted early Sunday in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, including in the neighbourhood of Muammar Qadhafi’s residence.
Frequent bursts of gunfire and car horns could be heard around the city, beginning at 5.30 a.m. and lasting for several hours, but it was not immediately clear who was firing. An Associated Press reporter said the gunfire was heard near the vast complex where the Libyan leader lives, although it was not known if he was in Tripoli.
A government spokesman, Abdel-Majid al-Dursi, told the AP that the gunfire was celebratory, claiming that government forces had retaken the oil port of Ras Lanouf, in central Libya. But residents of Ras Lanouf said on Sunday that the opposition remained in control of the port.
Opposition forces took the port on Saturday and pushed toward Col. Qadhafi’s hometown, even as government forces in tanks rolled into Zawiya, the opposition-held city closest to the capital, in a seesaw for both sides in the bloody battle for control of Libya.
The rival successes signalled an increasingly long and violent battle that could last weeks or months and veered the country ever closer to civil war.