Libyan rebels press ahead toward Tripoli
Updated: 2011-08-14 13:54
Rebels fighters sit opposite houses in a residential area in Brega August 13, 2011. [Photo/Agencies]
BENGHAZI, Libya - Libyan rebels are stepping up their two-pronged offensive on Tripoli from the east and west, locked in fierce battles with forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.
Abdul Muhammad, from the rebelling National Transitional Council ( NTC), said on Saturday that Libyan rebel forces have made advances on the western front by entering the city of Zawiyah, about 40 km west of Tripoli, after fierce battles with Gaddafi's forces.
The rebel troops had entered Zawiyah from the south and west. But the Libyan government claimed the city is still under its control.
Zawiyah is located on the main highway linking the capital with Tunisia -- a lifeline for the Libyan government.
On the eastern battlefront, the rebels are fighting to take a second residential district in the oil town of Brega, military spokesman Ahmed Omar Bani told a regular press conference on Saturday.
The rebels had captured one of the three residential districts of Brega on Thursday, but Gaddafi's forces still hold the western parts of the town where oil facilities are located.
Bani hailed the military progress as a "milestone" that has broken weeks of deadlock, as rebel forces have vowed to continue pushing toward Tripoli.
Bani, meanwhile, confirmed to Xinhua via telephone that the rebel forces had entered Zawiyah and that their troops in Benghazi fired weapons in the air to celebrate.
However, Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim insisted that Zawiyah is "absolutely" under the government's control, adding that the rebels were stopped easily by Gaddafi's forces.
The war between the Libyan government and rebels broke out in February following a nationwide protest calling for Gaddafi to step down. Fighting on the ground has remained fierce since, but rebels have already seized large swathes of the North African state.
The rebels' latest success in Brega has ended weeks of stalemate in the east of the country.
Brega has been the scene of months of fighting between Gaddafi forces and the rebels, with both determined to control the strategic oil hub.
Brega is strategically important not only because of its refinery, port, the size of its population and industrial complexes. It is also linked to the rebel-held eastern city of Ajdabiya.
Meanwhile, rebels also appear to be gaining more on the international front.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree on Friday backing the UN Security Council resolution that authorized international military action in Libya.
According to a decree posted on the Kremlin's website, Russia has agreed to ban all flights to Libya in Russian air space except flights for humanitarian purposes or an emergency landing.
The Russian military ships are allowed to inspect vessels in the open seas going to or from Libya, provided Russia has information about the military use of the vessels.
The decree also bans all financial operations involving the assets of Gaddafi and his family.
Russia abstained from voting on UNSC Resolution 1973 in March, which imposed a no-fly zone over Libya and tightened sanctions on the North African country. Russia has been criticizing NATO-led military operations in Libya.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has recently voiced concern about rising civilian casualties in Libya and called for a political solution to the conflict.
The call came as rebels claimed a major victory in seizing part of Brega.
In a statement released by his spokesperson, the UN chief said he was "deeply concerned by reports of the unacceptably large number of civilian casualties as a result of the conflict in Libya."
The statement called on "all parties to exercise extreme caution" to "minimize any further loss of civilian life."
Ban reaffirmed his belief that "there can be no military solution to the Libyan crisis."