NATO sinks boat carrying Gadhafi troops

ZAWIYA, Libya — NATO warplanes sunk a tugboat carrying troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi away from the strategic western city of Zawiya as rebels advanced closer to the Libyan capital, the alliance said Friday.

By (AP)

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Published: Fri 19 Aug 2011, 6:52 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 8:28 PM

The attack struck the boat Wednesday as rebels in Zawiya laid siege to Libya’s last functioning oil refinery in a symbolic coup for the opposition, although government forces still hold the center.

An officer with the alliance said the boat was targeted because the troops on board were “threatening civilians,” but he declined to elaborate on the threat.

“They weren’t fleeing, they were continuing their attacks against local civilian population,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity according to NATO policy. He said a rescue attempt was made after aircraft spotted several individuals swimming toward a nearby buoy.

Libyan rebels have clashed with Gadhafi troops in Zawiya this week in an attempt to take the city and inch closer to the capital Tripoli just 30 miles (50 kilometers) to the east.

The rebels claimed Thursday they had captured the 120,000-barrel-per-day refinery in fighting that could be a turning point in the six-month civil war between Gadhafi and forces seeking to oust him.

The flow of crude to the refinery from fields in the southwest of Libya had largely been halted since midsummer and its capture was unlikely to have a major impact on Gadhafi’s ability to secure fuel, but it was seen as a significant step in the rebel advance toward the capital.

Explosions also shook the capital early Friday as NATO jets were heard circling overhead. Flames lit up the Tripoli skies near Gadhafi’s Bab al-Aziziya headquarters and army barracks.

Seven thunderous blasts could be felt at a hotel where foreign journalists stay in Tripoli. Residents also told The Associated Press that three strikes were heard hitting the road to the airport in the capital.

NATO also said its planes took out five tanks in Zawiya on Thursday.

The revolt in Libya began in mid-February, with the rebels quickly wresting control of much of the eastern half of the country, as well as pockets in the west.

But the conflict later settled into a stalemate with the rebels failing to budge the front lines in the east since April, and making only minor gains from the pockets they control in the western Nafusa mountains until this week as the rebels made enormous gains in capturing many western towns and claiming to control the road from Tripoli to the Tunisian border — the supply line of the capital.

The opposition said it has cut off fuel supplies to the regime’s stronghold of Tripoli. A rebel field commander in Zawiya, says the fighting has shut down an oil pipeline to the capital, where a third of Libya’s six million people live. The rebels have surrounded the refinery.

NATO said it hit four military facilities and on surface to air missile in Tripoli on Thursday.



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