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Gaddafi forces closing in on rebel town

Benghazi, March 13, 2011

Rebels fighting the forces of Muammar Gaddafi in the east of Libya said on Sunday the front line had been pushed back to the rebel-held oil town of Brega, and residents in the area said they were fearful.

"The Libyan people need help. We're in danger. The east is in danger," Abdel Hadi Omar, a civilian rebel volunteer, speaking in the nearby town of Ajdabiyah, said on Sunday    

"The Libyan people can't cope with Gaddafi's weapons. We have people but we don't have means," he told Reuters.

Further east down the strategic coastal road, Gaddafi troops had pushed insurgents from Ras Lanuf after attacking the oil port in an assault pitting tanks and planes against rebels armed with light weapons and machineguns mounted on pick-up trucks.

It was clear the rebels had retreated from Ras Lanuf, but with a rapidly-moving battlefield just how far was uncertain. The next big oil town of Brega was alive with rumour that Gaddafi forces would be advancing shortly, mounting another overwhelming show of military force. Many families had fled.

On the outskirts, some rebels had made preparations in armed vehicles to defend the town in this barren landscape dotted with oil terminals that divides the west with Tripoli as its capital from the rebel-held east and Libya's second city of Benghazi.

This correspondent noted that the coastal road appeared thinly protected by rebel soldiers and said in Brega there was a feeling that the town could fall at any moment. Rebels said their soldiers were watchful from positions in the desert.   

"This will be their next target. They will be coming here next," Rafah Farsi, 31, an oil worker and one of the few residents to remain in Brega, said on Saturday night.   

"It saddens me seeing people fleeing their own homes for safety," a tearful Farsi told Reuters. "Ras Lanuf was a residential area and now it's destroyed, why?"    

In the local barber's shop in Brega, a revolutionary poster celebrating the uprising against Gaddafi had been replaced by a poster of the flamboyant and autocratic leader.   

Several customers said they were prepared to welcome Gaddafi forces out of self-preservation rather than loyalty.

But Ali Zwei, 41, said he would not join them along the streets. "These people have no principles. How can you wave a flag for someone who bombs his own people. If our brothers around Libya can't stand with us now, then when," he said.   

There was growing support for the scenario that Gaddafi's push east could leave him fighting a prolonged guerrilla war.   

"We don't care how long it takes, five years or 10 years. The gate has been opened," said Bashir Warshfani, 30, a rebel in military fatigues and wearing a keffiyeh.   

"If I die, my brother takes my place, if he dies, my neighbour. Gaddafi will only get this country when he kills us all," he said, lifting his shirt to show the entry and exit wound of a bullet that was freshly bandaged. - Reuters




Tags: libya | gaddafi | rebels | Brega |

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