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Libya rebels prepare for new Ajdabiyah offensive

(Reuters)
Filed on March 25, 2011

NEAR AJDABIYAH, Libya - Libyan rebels were massing near Ajdabiyah on Friday for a new push after Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in the strategic eastern town refused a ceasefire offer.

A Reuters reporter arriving near the front line passed four trucks carrying multiple rocket launchers and many pick-ups mounted with heavy machine guns after British Tornado planes struck government military vehicles in Ajdabiyah overnight.

Rebel forces fired steady bursts of artillery at Gaddafi’s forces from their positions outside the town.

Ibrahim Faraj, a member of the rebel military council, told Reuters that local tribal elders had held talks with Gaddafi’s forces in Ajdabiyah early on Friday and demanded they surrender.

“The rebels said ‘you must withdraw and leave your weapons and you will not be harmed’. They refused. That is why we plan to advance with heavy weapons,” said Faraj.

The rebel forces appeared to be better organised than in previous days, with new roadblocks heading towards Ajdabiyah watched over by troops communicating with each other by phone.

“This (the British strikes) will weaken their (Gaddafi’s) forces and more importantly their morale. We expect Ajdabiyah will be liberated today or tomorrow,” rebel spokesman Mustafa Gheriani told reporters in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

He denied the rebels at the frontline were negotiating with the Gaddafi forces for them to pull back and said they had been told they must lay down their weapons and surrender.

The stand-off in Ajdabiyah “all ends after prayers today,” rebel colonel Hamad al-Hasi told Reuters near Ajdabiyah. “The talks failed.”

He said there were clashes in Ajdabiyah on Friday and the rebels were cutting off Gaddafi’s forces stationed at the town’s eastern and western gates.

The presence near the town of authoritative and knowledgeable senior rebel officers like Hasi and Faraj suggested the rebel command based in the eastern city of Benghazi is taking more direct control over the front line.

The rebels, most of them with little military experience, had advanced hundreds of kilometres east from Benghazi early in the fighting but were beaten back to the city’s outskirts by Gaddafi’s better armed forces.

“The airstrikes last night have spurred us on. That is the number one reason for the advance. The second reason is the failure of talks,” said Faraj.

Spirits were high among a group of around 50 rebels gathered near the road to Ajdabiyah. Some of them burned Gaddafi’s green flag and shouted “God is Great”.

“We are organising the ranks and today we are going to take Ajdabiyah because we are bringing heavy weapons.” said Faisal Mahmoud, a rebel fighter.

However, spokesman Gheriani voiced concern about the number of civilian casualties they may find in the town if they succeed in pushing back Gaddafi’s forces. “I am very apprehensive that we will find a great crime has been committed there.”


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