Libyan rebels say counter-attack at Zlitan repelled

Wed Aug 3, 2011 2:53pm GMT

By Mussab Al-Khairalla

MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) - Libyan rebels said on Wednesday they had fought off an attack on positions around Zlitan, contradicting government claims of victory in a town insurgents hope will pave the way for an advance on the capital.

Tuesday's assault by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi led to fierce street battles that killed at least eight rebels, exposing the fragility of gains by rebels who are fighting on several fronts but are frequently out-gunned and out-manoeuvred.

Five months into their uprising, despite winning increasing international support and enjoying the backing of NATO bombing raids on pro-Gaddafi forces, the eastern-based rebels have failed to make a breakthrough in ending Gaddafi's 41-year rule.

As diplomacy appears to have ground to a halt, rebel pushes around Zlitan and the oil town of Brega, both to the east of Tripoli, and the Western Mountains, near the border with Tunisia, have been overshadowed by reports of divisions and the slaying of their top military chief in shadowy circumstances.

General Abdel Fattah Younes's death, apparently while in the custody of fellow rebels bringing him back from the front line for unspecified questioning, raises the question of stability in the oil-rich country, even if Gaddafi, who has vowed to fight to the death, is defeated.

In recent days, rebels have inched towards Zlitan, a town 160 km (100 miles) east of Tripoli and near rebel-held Misrata, Libya's third-largest city, pushing the frontline to the eastern outskirts. Some 34 rebels have been killed in the advance.

Video footage of Tuesday's fighting, seen by Reuters, showed rebels firing rocket-propelled grenades and heavy anti-aircraft guns at Gaddafi loyalists in eastern Zlitan.


Libyan rebels fire an anti-aircraft gun at government forces during a heavy sandstorm near the village of Tiji in western Libya, July 31, 2011. REUTERS/Bob Strong
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