x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Nato hits military depot in eastern Tripoli

Libyan rebel forces' attacks on the eastern oil city of Brega stretched into their fourth day, with reports of pitched battles in residential areas.

TRIPOLI // Nato jets destroyed a military storage facility and other targets in Tripoli's eastern outskirts early yesterday, days after key international players recognised Libya's rebel leadership as the country's legitimate representative.

Rebel attacks on the eastern oil city of Brega, meanwhile, stretched into their fourth day, with reports of pitched battles in the residential areas.

From the capital, bright flashes could be seen on the eastern horizon just after midnight, followed by a steady rumbling that went on for an hour. Planes could be heard crisscrossing a night sky lit up by a near full moon, and into yesterday afternoon as well.

Nato said its forces had hit a military storage facility, along with three radar sites and an anti-aircraft missile launcher east of the capital. The alliance reported it flew a total of 110 sorties and carried out 45 strikes on Saturday.

Despite the boost given by the recognition of the rebels and a pledge to transfer Libya's billions in frozen assets to rebel coffers, the struggle against Colonel Muammar Qaddafi has settled into a stalemate since the mass uprising broke out in mid-February.

The rebels have set up an interim administration in the eastern city of Benghazi and seized control of the port city of Miusrata and much of the western Nafusa mountain range. Colonel Qaddafi controls the rest of Libya from his stronghold in Tripoli.

Nato forces also struck several targets around Brega, possibly in support of the rebel assault on the town, destroying a tank, a pair of rocket launchers and five vehicles.

Mohammed AL Rajaly, a spokesman for the rebels, said there was street-to-street fighting with automatic weapons in Brega, representing the farthest the rebels have reached in their months of trying to retake the town.

Brega is the transport terminal for oil and natural gas pumped from the fields deep in Libya's south and has changed hands several times in the fighting.

One fighter was killed and 15 were wounded, according to Dr Mohammed Idris at the hospital in the nearby city of Ajdabiya. On Saturday, 10 rebels were killed in a failed assault.

On the whole, however, rebel efforts to move on the capital have all bogged down in the face of better equipped and trained government troops.

Colonel Qaddafi has made a series of defiant speeches over the past few days, ridiculing Nato and making it clear he has no intention of leaving power, as demanded by the Western powers.