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Gaddafi's forces pushed from mountain towns as China meets with rebels

China’s decision to publicly hold talks with the head of Libya’s rebel council is the latest blow to Gaddafi’s flagging international support.

A rebel fighter stands guard during Friday prayers in Benghazi, Libya, on 3 June, 2011.
A rebel fighter stands guard during Friday prayers in Benghazi, Libya, on 3 June, 2011.
Image: AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd

LIBYAN forced government troops from three western towns and broke the siege on another, a rebel commander said Friday, and NATO pounded ten targets across the country.

The heavy bombing and rebel victory, plus the first publicised diplomatic contact between China and the rebel leadership, reflect the continued erosion of Moammar Gaddafi’s power since the eruption in mid-February of uprisings to end his 42-year rule.

A rebel military leader said today local fighters won control of four towns in the western Nafusa mountain range, where government forces have besieged and randomly shelled rebel-held areas for months.

After weeks of siege, government forces drove about seven tanks and a number of armored vehicles into Yifran in early May and surrounded its near neighbor Galaa, Col. Jumaa Ibrahim of the region’s rebel military council said via Skype.

Fighters who had fled then used their knowledge of area to chip away at the government forces, he said.

“They started with hit-and-run attacks,” he said. “They know all the hills and valleys, so they were able to trick the brigades and destroy some of their vehicles.”

Today, the fighters entered the town to find that the last government forces had fled the day before.

Rebel fighters also pushed government fighters from Shakshuk and Qasr al-Haj, two villages near a key road that runs along the mountain range’s northern edge, Ibrahim said. The latter holds an important power station for local towns.

Ibrahim said rebel forces took the towns yesterday then moved north to clash with Gaddafi forces in the village of Bir Ayyad on Friday. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The small number of rebel fighters in the western mountains are unlikely to threaten Gaddafi’s hold on Tripoli, 45 miles (70 kilometers) northwest, but the victories could bring relief to local residents by opening up roads between their communities. The western mountain population is tiny compared to the large rebel-held territories in east Libya.

Also today, at least ten NATO airstrikes hit the capital and elsewhere in Libya. It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties.

Four early morning blasts shook central Tripoli, targeting a barracks near the sprawling compound where Gaddafi sometimes lives, said a government official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government policy. Six earlier strikes targeted a police station and a military base outside the capital, the official said.

A NATO spokeswoman, speaking by phone from Naples, said the alliance hit a storage facility for military vehicles in Gaddafi’s compound. In a statement, NATO said it also targeted surface-to-air missile launchers and armored personnel carriers near Tripoli, as well as other targets elsewhere.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Friday that China’s ambassador to Qatar recently met with the head of Libya’s rebel council, the first known meeting between the two sides. China abstained in the UN Security Council vote authorizing NATO military action in Libya.

- AP

Read: Bodies of 150 African refugees fleeing Libya discovered off Tunisian coast: report >

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