Gadhafi's forces break through Libya rebel lines
Opposition appear to be loosing in Zawiya in west, but their flag flies over new city in east
NBC, msnbc.com and news services NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 6 minutes ago 2011-03-05T07:52:26
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces broke through rebel defenses at the city of Zawiya Saturday, witnesses said after a battle in which dozens of people were killed.
The attack on the city, about 30 miles west of Tripoli, saw an improvised force of rebels armed with hunting rifles and swords take on troops from the elite Khamis Brigade — named after the son of Gadhafi who commands it.
The witnesses said that forces loyal to the regime had overcome rebel positions with tanks, heavy mortar shelling, machinegun fire.
The rattle of gunfire and explosions could be heard as they spoke to The Associated Press by phone. They did so on condition of anonymity because of fears for their safety.
They added that several fires were raging in Zawiya Saturday.
"Now with all the artillery, tanks and armored vehicles, we're seeing battles and killings we haven't seen in Iraq. I consider it total genocide," said one witness who spoke to Al-Arabiya television.
"The battles have now entered the city. More than 15 armored vehicles entered two hours ago along with a tank. There is heavy firing in all the areas and mosques have announced 'jihad' against these brigades," the man told Al-Arabiya.
Al-Jazeera television news carried similar reports about fighting in Zawiya and said tanks had fired on homes.
"There is heavy bombing of the city by tanks and heavy weapons and mortars — the rebels are struggling to resist with very primitive means. They [invading forces] have no mercy and are very brutal. There is a large number of injured and a lot of people killed on the streets," a witness, Ahmed, told Al-Jazeera by telephone.
'We will die here'
He said he was speaking from the central Martyrs' Square in Zawiya where he and other rebels had been surrounded by tanks. Artillery and machine gun fire could be heard in the background.
"There is no mercy to civilians ... there is a very tragic situation happening right now. It's a very serious situation. We were expecting the world to intervene, but they have let us down. Shelling is now coming in from all sides," Ahmed told Al-Jazeera.
"We have made up our mind that we will die here. Where is the United Nations or the Arab League or the international community who have spoken about our rights or protecting us? I don't think they meant what they have said," he added.
Al-Jazeera reported that hospital medics claimed to have seen injured people on Zawiya's street being executed and that ambulances had been attacked.
After a number of failed attempts to take the city, the troops on Friday launched a fresh offensive, bombarding Zawiya's western edges with tanks and anti-aircraft guns, several residents said.
Video: Libyan rebels lose ground in Zawiya (on this page)
The rebels had said Friday they were still in control of the central square, but admitted that the soldiers had taken the small town of Harsha, on the city's outskirts, after heavy fighting.
"Dozens were killed and more were wounded. We have counted 30 dead civilians. The hospital was full. They could not find space for the casualties," a Zawiya resident identified only as Mohamed told Reuters by telephone Friday.
"People used swords and hunting rifles to defend Martyrs Square. Even mothers used those weapons," he added.
The death toll from the fighting at Zawiya was unclear. On Friday, The Associated Press quoted a witness at Zawiya's hospital as saying 18 people had been killed and 120 wounded. Another resident told Reuters that between 40 and 50 people were killed in the clashes.
Interactive: Key events, players in Libya (on this page)
The commander of the rebel forces in Zawiya — Hussein Darbouk — was among those killed, Alaa al-Zawi, an activist in the city, told the AP.
Darbouk, an army colonel who defected along with other troops in Zawiya early on in the uprising, was shot to death by fire from an anti-aircraft gun, he said.
Rebel flag flies in eastern town
However, in the east, the town of Ras Lanuf was largely calm with the rebel flag flying over it after opposition forces drove out loyalist troops Friday.
The rebels opened fire on a helicopter flying overhead Saturday, a Reuters correspondent in the town reported, but otherwise there was no sign of Gadhafi's forces.
At a checkpoint at the entrance to the town Saturday, there was a rebel checkpoint, manned by half a dozen soldiers.
Asked if rebels were in charge of the whole town, one soldier replied: "Everything, 100 percent, it is completely safe."
Hoisted over a roundabout in the town was the Libyan flag that pre-dates the military coup that brought Gadhafi to power four decades ago, the symbol adopted by the rebels.
"We control Ras Lanuf, the port, airport, the oil company and the residential area," said Ahmed Aljili, a rebel fighter in Ras Lanuf.
A day earlier, flashes and thuds had resounded from fighting around the area of Ras Lanuf, a major oil terminal of the OPEC producer that sits on the Mediterranean coast. Helicopters had strafed positions of rebels, who fired rifles back.
In developments Friday:
* An explosion at an ammunition depot near Libya's rebel stronghold of Benghazi killed at least 17 people and injured 18, hospital officials said.
* Interpol delivered a global "Orange Notice" alert for Gadhafi and 15 members of his inner circle to help police worldwide enforce U.N. sanctions. An "Orange Notice" is not an arrest warrant but is issued to help countries track down illegal assets or suspects wanted for extradition.
* Two Red Crescent medics were wounded by Gadhafi troops as they tried to retrieve a body near Misrata, Amnesty International reported.
* A Libyan warplane bombed just beyond the walls of a military base used to store huge amounts of ammunition and now held by rebels in the eastern town of Ajdabiya but did not hit it.
* Two vessels carrying 1,300 U.S. Marines docked Friday at an American base on Crete as part of a military build up around Libya, the U.S. Navy said. Souda Bay navy base spokesman Paul Farley said the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge and the USS Ponce arrived at the base, carrying a total of around 4,000 personnel, including the Marines.
* Two U.S. Air Force cargo planes also flew blankets, water and other relief supplies to Tunisia on Friday as part of an international effort to help refugees who fled from the fighting in Libya.