DTN News - BATTLE FOR LIBYA: Libyan Rebels Claim Capture Of Key Gadhafi Stronghold
(NSI News Source Info) TORONTO, Canada / WADI EL-HAI, Libya- August 13, 2011: Libya's rebels on Saturday fought with regime troops for control of a key mountain town that is a strategic gateway on the road to Tripoli in an intensified western offensive aiming to push toward Moammar Gadhafi's stronghold in the capital.
Rebels earlier claimed control of Gharyan, saying they had moved into the centre of the town and that Gadhafi's troops had withdrawn. But several hours later, regime forces returned with reinforcements and the two sides clashed, said rebel spokesman Gomma Ibrahim.
Gharyan lies at the northern end of the Nafusa Mountains, and Gadhafi's hold on the town had been a sticking point for rebels who have taken control of most of the range. The town lies on the main road leading directly from Nafusa to Tripoli, 50 miles (80 kilometres) to the north on the Mediterranean coast.
Rebels have been trying for weeks to take Gharyan, and NATO airstrikes have hit Gadhafi's forces several times in the area.
On Saturday morning, rebel fighters moved into the town and, alongside residents, battled for about four hours with the remains of regime forces in the town -- mostly young fighters and mercenaries, said Ibrahim. The Gadhafi troops withdrew, but after a brief lull, the troops returned in intensified numbers, he said.Ibrahim said that Gharyan residents had joined with the entering rebel fighters, in part out of anger that some 2,500 of the town's men had been arrested in recent months for voicing opposition to Gadhafi. The claims could not immediately be confirmed independently."This is the biggest stop on the way to Tripoli, where we will topple down the tyrant and liberate all Libya," Ibrahim said.
The capture of Gharyan would solidify the rebels' flank as they push ahead with a new offensive launched from further west in the Nafusa range, pushing down into the coastal plain where Gadhafi's forces have been concentrated. The rebels are hoping to take several cities along the coast before moving on to Tripoli.
Rebel commander Fathi el-Ayeb said his fighters were 10 miles (15 kilometres) away from Gadhafi-held Zawiya, a key target in the offensive. He said the rebels scouts who returned from Zawiya claim the local residents there were waiting for the rebels to reach the city's outskirts to join their fight against Gadhafi.