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Fighting focuses on strategic Libyan oil town

The see-saw desert battle for Libya continues – with rebels making modest gains with the help of international air strikes after skirmishes around the strategic oil town of Brega.

A Libyan rebel shouts religious slogans before heading towards the frontline, near Brega, Libya, Saturday, April 2, 2011.
A Libyan rebel shouts religious slogans before heading towards the frontline, near Brega, Libya, Saturday, April 2, 2011.
Image: AP Photo/Altaf Qadri

LIBYAN REBELS skirmished with government forces around the strategic oil town of Brega on Sunday, making incremental gains backed by international air strikes in the see-saw desert battle for the country.

In contrast to the rapid gains and losses of territory that characterized the fighting over the past few weeks, the conflict has stabilized recently around the oil facilities of Brega, as better trained rebel soldiers join the fight and airstrikes blunt the government advantages in weapons and training.

“There have been skirmishes in Brega,” confirmed Rabia al-Ahwat, 48, a rebel fighter, who was also a 30-year-veteran of the Libyan army. He said there were heavy airstrikes overnight as well against government forces. Those strikes have been key in halting the previously unstoppable government advances.

One of those airstrikes went awry late on Friday however, and mistakenely killed 13 rebel fighters. Significantly, however, the opposition blamed mistakes within their own ranks for the incident in a sign of the importance of the international air campaign to their war effort.

There were also reports by Arab news channels of continued heavy shelling of Misrata, the lone rebel outpost in western Libya, where Muammar Gadhafi’s forces still largely hold sway.

Medical officials said Saturday that government forces killed 37 civilians over the past two days in an unrelenting campaign of shelling and sniper fire and an attack that burned down the city’s main stocks of flour and sugar.

A Turkish ship carrying 250 wounded from Misrata is expected to dock in Benghazi on Sunday as well, according to the state-run Anatolia news agency.

The boat, which is carrying medical supplies, is expected to pick up around 60 wounded people and 21 accompanying persons that are currently being treated in various hospitals in Benghazi as well as 30 Turks and 40 people from Greece, Ukraine, Britain, Uzbekistan, Germany and Finland.

- AP

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