x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Rival rebel factions clash in Libya leaving four dead

Two days after suspected Al Nidaa members attacked two prisons in Benghazi, enabling the escape of 200 to 300 pro-Qaddafi inmates, rebel's security forces over-run Al Nidaa base.

Libya's rebels yesterday overran the base of a rogue faction suspected of breaking pro-Qaddafi fighters out of an opposition prison, leaving four people dead.

The rebel's information minister, Mahmoud Shammam, said the clashes between rebel security forces and members of the Al Nidaa Brigade broke out about 3am on the western outskirts of Benghazi and left four rebels dead and six wounded. The main rebel force took control of Al Nidaa's base after five hours of fighting, he said.

The violence comes two days after suspected Al Nidaa members attacked two prisons in Benghazi, enabling the escape of 200 to 300 inmates.

The clashes, coupled with Thursday's killing of the chief rebel commander, General Abdel Fattah Younis, in yet unexplained circumstances, point to divisions within the rebel ranks that could sap the movement of much-needed unity in its push to topple Colonel Moammar Qaddafi nearly six months after the revolt began.

The general was a right-hand man to Colonel Qaddafi before his defection to the rebel ranks. His Benghazi villa was surrounded by checkpoints early yesterday and no traffic allowed on the coastal city's main highway.

On Saturday night, Colonel Qaddafi renewed his pledge "never to abandon" the battle, in an audio tape broadcast on state television despite Nato air strikes earlier the same day on the broadcaster's headquarters in Tripoli.

Libya's enemies would be "defeated in the face of the resistance and courage of the Libyan people," Colonel Qaddafi said.

In the Nafusa mountains, meanwhile, rebel forces said they were making gains in their push against pro-Qaddafi forces on the front lines in western Libya.

Yesterday, they said they were in the town of Hawamid and advanced another 10 to 15 kilometres toward the town of Tiji in the last 24 hours.

"Hundreds of rebel fighter are surrounding Tiji," said Jamal Motawa, a 26-year-old rebel who was one of seven wounded in the fighting. Mr Motawa had shrapnel in his left leg.

Pro-Qaddafi forces inside Tiji were under siege but continued to attack the advancing rebels with rockets, according to Mr Motawa.

Tiji, thought to have a population of 10,000, is on the main road from the Tunisian border to Tripoli, the Libyan capital. It is considereßd a strategically important town if rebels were to continue their advance to Tripoli, 240 kilometres to the north-east.

Rebels in the Nafusa mountains have been making modest advances against Colonel Qaddafi troops, but fighting in the east has been stalled for months, with neither side able to make any significant progress.

Despite the slow pace of events on the ground, France, one of the rebels' main outside backers, is counseling patience.

In an interview published yesterday, the French defence minister Gerard Longuet addressed the growing pressure for a quick resolution to the Libya conflict, insisting that "impatience is never a good adviser" and that rebel fighters don't deserve the blame.

"Things have to move in Tripoli. To put it clearly, the population has to rise up. The month ahead will naturally be intense. There will not be, I think, a pause because of the month of Ramadan," Mr Longuet said.

Yesterday, a day after Nato airstrikes bombed three Libyan state television satellite transmitters in Tripoli, a spokesman at Nato's operational headquarters in Naples said the alliance had seen reports of casualties among the TV network's employees.

A Nato official said: "We are aware of the allegations related to this subject. We cannot confirm them since we have nobody on the ground there."

He said the Libyan government had claimed on several occasions that Nato airstrikes had killed civilians, but that most of these proved to be false.

On Saturday, the head of Libyan state TV's English-language section told reporters in Tripoli that three state television journalists were killed and 15 other people were wounded in the Nato strikes.

"We are not a military target. We are not commanders in the army and we do not pose a threat to civilians," Khaled Bazelya said.

The strike on Tripoli's TV transmitters was not Nato's first attack on a television installation. During the bombing of Serbia in 1999, an airstrike on the state-run network's studios in Belgrade killed 16 employees.

At the time, Nato justified the attack by claiming the TV network was fomenting violence and serving as the propaganda mouthpiece of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

On Saturday, Nato made a similar claim, saying its strike on Libyan TV was launched because Colonel Qaddafi was using it to "incite acts of violence".

* Reporting by the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse