x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Libyan rebels try to retake Brega

Libyan rebels were poised for an attempt to retake Brega after breaching the key oil refinery town's defences.

AJDABIYA, LIBYA // Libyan rebels were poised for an attempt to retake Brega yesterday after breaching the key oil refinery town's defences.

A military spokesman for the rebels, Mohammed Zawi, said a light mobile force had breached loyalist positions around Brega late on Friday, before pulling back for a renewed offensive early yesterday.

A group of about 50 reconnaissance troops entered the town from the north, then pulled back four kilometres before midnight, Mr Zawi said.

The attack on the frontline between the rebel-held east and the mainly government-held west came 32 hours after the rebel command launched a three-pronged attack against Col Muammar Qaddafi's forces, who were thought to have numbered around 3,000.

It also followed a morale-boosting recognition by major powers of the rebel administration as the legitimate governing authority in Libya, during a meeting in Turkey on Friday.

While the rebels' forward position to the north was 4km from the town centre, a second unit attacking from due east of Brega faced stiffer resistance and was about 10-20km from the town.

Rebels were trying to dispose of more than 150 landmines already found outside the town, to make way for heavy artillery.

But the assault took a toll, with at least 10 dead and 172 wounded, according to medics.

At a hospital in nearby Ajdabiya, doctor Ahmed Dinari said most of the casualties were now caused by landmines rather than Col Qaddafi's heavy artillery.

Lying prone in "Bed 2," Ali Saleh, 19, said he had been in the central rebel column in the early hours of the morning when his armoured personnel carrier hit a mine.

"We were very close to Brega at around three in the morning, then we got instructions from Nato to fall back and as we were falling back the vehicle hit a mine, destroying the chain track."

He was suffering from shock and a lightly injured knee.

Brega, nestled at the south-eastern tip of the Gulf of Sirte, has changed hands multiple times during Libya's civil war, which soon enters its fifth month.