x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Rebels meet as battles in Libya intensify

Intensive fighting in western town of Zawiya lead doctor to charge government forces with committing "a massacre."

Rebels clear an area west of Bin Jowad, 50km west of Ras Lanuf, on Saturday.
Rebels clear an area west of Bin Jowad, 50km west of Ras Lanuf, on Saturday.

Libyan government forces launched a second attack on the western town of Zawiya yesterday after rebels drove them out in a morning of fierce fighting. In the east, opponents of Muammar Qaddafi pushed towards his home town, Sirte.

As the battle to unseat Col Qaddafi gathered pace, the recently formed Libyan National Council, the opposition's embryonic government, held its first formal meeting in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

"The fighting has intensified and the tanks are shelling everything on their way. They have shelled houses. Now they are shelling a mosque where hundreds of people are hiding, Abu Akeel, a Zawiya resident, told Reuters. "We can't rescue anyone because the shelling is so heavy."

A doctor accused government forces of perpetrating a "massacre" during the heavy assault in Zawiya yesterday, with at least 30 people killed in early morning clashes.

It was the second attempt by Col Qaddafi's forces to win control over the town in a matter of hours. Rebels pushed back an early morning attack in which residents said the government forces had fired high explosive rounds at civilians and dragged people from their homes.

People opposed to Col Qaddafi's 41-year rule have been fighting his forces in Zawiya for more than a week, after rebels took over large parts of eastern Libya in an uprising inspired by the overthrow of rulers in Egypt and Tunisia this year.

Rebels in eastern Libya said they were pushing further west after driving forces loyal to Col Qaddafi from the oil town of Ras Lanuf. Doctors said at least 26 people died Friday in fighting there and in what rebels said was an attack by Col addafi's forces on an arms store on the edge of the eastern town of Benghazi.

In the UAE, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday reiterated its rejection and condemnation of bloodshed and attacks against civilians. In a statement from the official news agency, WAM, Juma Mubarak Al Junaibi, undersecretary of the ministry, said the UAE is playing "its humanitarian role within the context of its brotherly and friendly ties with the Libyan people and through delivery of several relief and assistance programmes to citizens and displaced persons."

* Reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse

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