Monday, August 8, 2011

Bir Al-Ghanam - Gateway to Tripoli

With Garyan, a heavily fortified military garrison town proving to be a formidable obsitcal on the mountain route to Tripoli, the rebel forces seem to have made an end run around Garyan to capture Bir AlGhanam, a smaller, less fortified town that provides two highways to the coast road. The rebels advanced beyond Bir AlGhanam to within range of the suburbs of the cities.

Summary of the American and International Press on the Libyan Revolution - Morgan Strong
07/08/2011 10:34:00

Rebels in western Libyan town claim victory over Al Qathafi forces

(CNN) - Libyan rebel forces gained ground against ruler Muammar Al Qathafi's forces Saturday after a massive offensive in the western town of Bir Al-Ghanem.

Hundreds of opposition members joined in the battle, which lasted several hours. Grad rockets and gunfire were exchanged from both sides, and rebels took on Al Qathafi fighters from three fronts.

Doctors at a makeshift clinic said two people had died, and 20 were injured - some seriously.

Rebel fighters said Al Qathafi's forces had retreated from Bir Al-Ghanem and claimed victory over the town.

Bir Al-Ghanem is about 85 kilometres from the capital city of Tripoli. Capturing the town is significant because not much else stands in the way between Bir Al-Ghanem and the Libyan coastline - where Tripoli is situated.

For months, rebel fighters - who have controlled the eastern city of Benghazi and other areas - have been trying to move closer toward Tripoli, in the west. They are seeking the ouster of Al Qathafi, who has ruled Libya for 42 years.

Fighting intensifies in western Libya as hundreds of opposition fighters capture the strategic town of Bir Ghanem

( - Libyan opposition fighters have captured a strategic town in western Libya, as they intensify a push towards the coastal city of Az Zawiyah.

Hundreds of rebels fought Muammar Al Qathafi's forces in the battle for Bir Ghanem, 85km from the capital, Tripoli, on Saturday morning.

Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr said at least six opposition fighters were killed in the battle which lasted only a few hours.

"It was really fierce fighting," she said. "Since early morning we heard heavy exchange of rocket fire from both sides."

The offensive was part of the rebels' attempt to get closer to Tripoli. The rebels said earlier this week they hoped to reach the capital before the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
"The most important thing for them now is to reach Az Zawiyah," our correspondent said.

"They know that they can get support from inside that city, that rebels there are ready to rise up against the Al Qathafi regime but they need help from outside."

Az Zawiyah was the scene of a major uprising by protesters early on in the conflict, which began in February. The protesters took over the city and drove out Al Qathafi's supporters, but were then brutally crushed in a long, bloody siege.

Town under siege

Elsewhere in the west, residents of al-Qusbat, a small town 100km from Tripoli, were said to be under siege.

A representative from al-Qusbat's rebel military committee told the AFP news agency that the town was surrounded by Al Qathafi's forces and fears were growing of an imminent bloodbath.

"All roads going to al-Qusbat are blocked by Al Qathafi's forces. They cut electricity and communications since yesterday," Khamis Nuri el-Kasseh said from Benghazi after contacting the town by satellite phone.

"Al Qathafi's forces are not yet in control of the town, but we expect it will be bloody today," he said, adding there had already been a series of arrests in suburbs.

Al-Qusbat is cut off from other rebel positions in the west of Libya, with 70km separating it from the nearest positions at Zlitan to the east.

Backed by tanks and rocket fire, Libyan rebels aim for coastal towns in push toward Tripoli

(Washington Post) - Rebels launched a new offensive Saturday out of their stronghold in Libya’s western mountains, battling regime forces in a drive toward the heartland of Muammar Al Qathafi’s rule on the Mediterranean coast.

Opening a new front, the rebels are aiming to break a monthslong deadlock and eventually fight their way to the capital, Tripoli.

Booms of shelling and rocket fire echoed from the front lines, centered around the town of Bir Ghanem, where the rebel force backed by tanks fought Al Qathafi’s troops much of the day. Later, witnesses saw flattened buildings presumably targeted in NATO air strikes and three smouldering government tanks in the town.

Rebels are hoping for a breakthrough in the far west of Libya, frustrated with the stalemate in the centre of the country, where their under-equipped forces have been unable to budge the battlelines despite five months of NATO air strikes on Al Qathafi’s military. Rebels control most of the eastern half of country, while Al Qathafi’s regime holds most of the west, centred around Tripoli.

At dawn, thousands of opposition fighters pushed out of the Nafusa Mountains, a range near the Tunisian border, into the coastal plain toward their main objectives, Zawiyah and Sabratha, two key regime-held towns on the Mediterranean west of the capital.

Bir Ghanem, one of their initial targets Saturday, lies a little more than a third of the 50-mile (80-kilometre) distance to Zawiyah.

Rebel commander Col. Jumma Ibrahim said opposition forces captured Bir Ghanem and had moved a few miles beyond it, as well as making advances on a separate highway to Sabratha.

On that highway, rebels at one point came to within 18 miles (30 kilometres) of Libya’s coastline, but their convoy then came under heavy fire and they retreated, witnesses said.

“Now he can only defend himself against us,” Ibrahim said of Al Qathafi. “Our main destination is Tripoli, but we cannot jump directly to Tripoli. We go one by one.”

Despite the ambitious goals, the new assault is certain to hit tough resistance, as it would push right into the heartland of Al Qathafi’s control. Zawiyah, the rebel’s main target on the coast, was the scene of a major uprising by anti-Al Qathafi protesters early on in the conflict.

The protesters took over the city and drove out regime supporters, but then were brutally crushed in a long, bloody siege.

At a forward medical clinic set up in the hamlet of Bir Ayad, south of Bir Ghanem, doctors rushed to stabilise wounded fighters coming back from the front, as other rebels rested from the battle.

Medical officials said five rebels and three regime soldiers had been killed in the fighting.
Rebel gunmen burst out with shouts of “God is great,” and mobbed a pickup truck that pulled into Bir Ayad carrying a captured Al Qathafi solider.

Two rebels shouted at the fighters not to harm him, though a civilian slapped him on the back of the head. The soldier, clearly terrified with tears streaming down his face, was wrapped in a blanket and driven away.

At least three other captured soldiers were brought in later. One of them, Mohammed Tammar, his legs tied and his pants soaked with blood from a leg wound, appealed to the rebels around him, saying Al Qathafi had misled his troops, telling them they were fighting NATO and al-Qaida.

He and another captured soldier were taken to the rebel stronghold of Zintan in the mountains for interrogation, while a third, with a heavy wound in his back, was taken to a hospital.

Rebel fighter Moussa Hneish said his troops were trading tank fire with regime forces on the highway heading for Sabratha, and had some of the Al Qathafi troops surrounded. Ibrahim, the rebel spokesman, said rebel troops eventually also moved forward along that highway.

Earlier this week, the rebels said they hope to reach the Libyan capital before the end of the Muslim fasting holy month of Ramadan, which began on Monday.

The fighters Saturday were enthusiastic - most of them civilians who have taken up arms. On the central fronts, such fighters in the past have often proven undisciplined, charging ahead but then fleeing in the face of heavy resistance.

“We broke through the barrier of fear,” proclaimed Fakhredine al-Badrani, a 22-year-old computer student from Zintan. “Today, God willing, we will see a big victory. God willing, this evening we will enter Zawiyah.”

Commanders said they did not plan on moving on Zawiyah on Saturday.

For Saturday’s launch, rebel fighters streamed out in trucks from their strongholds in the Nafusa Mountains, including the command centre at Zintan, where preparations had been going on for days.

In recent weeks, hundreds of rebel fighters have snuck to Zintan from areas still under Al Qathafi’s control, entering the mountain area via a detour through Tunisia.

They have been grouped into units according to their home towns, as a safeguard against possible pro-Al Qathafi infiltrators and in order to let them spearhead the battle for their respective home towns.

For example, about 500 men from Zawiyah have been staying at a local school in Zintan. Hundreds of other fighters from Tripoli and Sabratha have units in Zintan.

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