Libyan rebels capture coastal city of Zawiya
|A Libyan worker chats with two rebels as they patrol an oil refinery controlled by anti-Kadafi forces on the outskirts of Zawiya. (Giulio Petrocco, Associated Press / AUG 19|
From the Associated PressAugust 20, 2011, 10:25 a.m.
The territory remaining under the Libyan ruler’s control has been shrinking dramatically in the past three weeks, with opposition fighters advancing on the capital, a metropolis of 2 million people, from the west, south and east.
Zawiya, a coastal city just 30 miles west of Tripoli, is the biggest prize so far in the rebels’ three-week-old offensive.The rebels also claimed to have captured two more towns — Zlitan in the west and Brega in the east.
However, later Saturday, rebel military spokesman Col. Ahmed Bani said his troops fell back in Brega, losing the industrial section of the key oil port to Kadafi’s forces.
Brega, home to Libya’s second-largest hydrocarbon complex and the place where the country’s main oil fields feed into for refining, has repeatedly changed hands in the 6-month-old civil war.
Despite the losses in Brega, the momentum in fighting now appears to have firmly swung in the rebels favor after months of near deadlock. The Libyan opposition also received a political boost Friday with the defection of Abdel-Salam Jalloud, a close associate of Kadafi who took part in the 1969 coup that brought the Libyan ruler to power.
On Saturday, rebel fighters and pickup trucks poured into Zawiya’s main square. Signs of the fierce fighting over the past week were all around: pockmarked and shattered facades of buildings ringing the plaza and bodies of two Kadafi soldiers lying on the ground.
For more than a week, fighting had focused on two main streets here — Omar Mokhtar and Gamal Abdel-Nasser streets — with Kadafi snipers positioned on top of Zawiya’s hospital, a bank and a hotel overlooking the main square.