Bir Ayad: Backed by tanks and rocket
fire, Libyan rebels fighting Muammar Gaddafi`s forces in the
country`s west launched a major push on Saturday toward key towns
along the Mediterranean coast near the capital Tripoli.
Hundreds of fighters were on the move along the road from
the mountain town of Yafran toward the front lines, where
heavy fighting seemed to be under way. The ground reverberated
with loud booms and rocket fire echoed from the distance.
Their first objective was the town of Bir Ghanam, about
18 miles (30 kilometers) north of Yafran. As fighting raged
there, the body of one rebel fighter killed earlier in the
morning was brought back to the nearby town of Bir Ayad.
The rebel forces are aiming to "first liberate Bir
Ghanam" and then would move on Zawiya, a key city on the
Mediterranean coast 30 miles (50 kilometers) away, said two
rebel fighters, Jumma Hussein and Youssef Bilin.
"We have thousands of fighters involved," Hussein said.
The assault is an attempt to open a new front and break the
military deadlock that has emerged in Libya`s civil war.
Gaddafi`s regime controls much of the west, with its
stronghold in Tripoli, while the rebels hold the east, with
pockets in the west, including the Nafousa Mountains where
Yafran is located and the city of Misrata on the coast, east
of the capital.
But neither side has made significant gains for months. A
NATO bombing campaign directed against government forces is
now in its fifth month but has so far failed to help the
poorly equipped rebels advance far beyond their strongholds.
Libya`s civil war erupted shortly after anti-regime protests
swept across Libya in mid-February.