Libya Rebels Make Gains Against Gadhafi Forces in Tripoli

NATO resumes bombing in east Tripoli as rebels push back pro-Gadhafi forces in the western part of capital.

Libyan rebels made fresh gains on the western front on Tuesday, pushing back forces loyal to leader Muammar Gadhafi in a string of clashes that brought them closer to the capital Tripoli.

Late on Tuesday, NATO resumed bombing the Libyan capital with strikes hitting the east of the city.

Libya June 7, 2011.
Reuters

A Reuters correspondent in the capital heard at least three loud explosions and saw smoke in the sky and a fire. He could hear planes flying above.

Libyan state TV said the bombings struck military and civilian targets in Firnag, one of the biggest neighborhoods in the capital, and Ain Zara, and there were casualties.

Insurgents tried earlier in the day to advance further in the east, aiming for the oil town of Brega in a bid to extend their control over the region, epicenter of the four-month rebellion against Gadhafi's four-decade rule.

They seized the town of Kikla, 150 km (90 miles) southwest of Tripoli, after government troops fell back, and pushed several kilometers west of their Misrata stronghold to the outskirts of government-held Zlitan, Reuters photographers said.

Pro-Gadhafi forces retreated about nine km from Kikla and rebels were setting up defensive positions there, they said.

In Brussels, NATO spokesman Wing Commander Mike Bracken said rebel forces were making steady advances in the west and the Berber highlands, and appeared to "control the ground from Wazin to Jadu and Zintan as well as the town of Yaffran."

"In the east ... there has been little movement from either side and no significant changes to the intensity of activity," he added

The push to Kikla came after weeks of deadlock between the rag-tag rebel army and government forces, though air strikes by NATO have taken their toll on Gadhafi's better-equipped troops.

Rebels in the west said attacks on a Misrata oil refinery were not hampering supplies as first feared. NATO leaflets warning of helicopter strikes prompted some rebels to retreat from their newly captured positions outside Zlitan.

"We came back because of the leaflets from NATO. I hope there is some coordination between the fighters and NATO. Gadhafi's forces are far away. Is it logical that NATO has no idea we took those positions?" local commander Mohammed Genei, 31, told Reuters. "NATO dropped the leaflets right on us."

A leaflet obtained by Reuters showed a picture of a helicopter and a burning tank. "When you see these helicopters, it means it is already too late for you," it said in Arabic.

"There is no place to hide. If you continue threatening civilians, you will be killed."

A NATO official said the alliance did drop leaflets warning of the possibility of attack by helicopters, but said this was west of Misrata, closer to Zlitan.

Even without the threat of NATO attack, the rebels said, they would not attack Zlitan because of tribal sensitivities but would wait for the local inhabitants to rise against Gadhafi.

Citing a rebel commander, the London Times newspaper said Gadhafi forces had hidden Grad rockets and ammunition in the Roman city of Leptis Magna, dating back to 200 BC.

The United Nations cultural body, UNESCO, called on all sides to ensure the protection of Libya's "precious legacy."

State television reported late on Tuesday the alliance had bombed Al Jufrah in central Libya for a second consecutive day. A NATO official denied any strike on Al Jufrah, but said it did strike an ammunition store at Waddan, not far from the city.

A Reuters journalist in Ryayna, 15 km east of Zintan in the Western Mountains, said rebels had captured the village and Gadhafi's forces had been pushed back.