x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Qaddafi forces thwarted in Zawiya by opposition militia

Witnesses say youths from Zawiya were stationed on the rooftops of high-rise buildings in the city to monitor the movements of the pro-Qaddafi forces and sound the warning if they though an attack was imminent.

Defected Libyan soldiers attempt to load an ammunitions magazine into an anti-aircraft gun on the border of the eastern town of Ajdabiya, Libya.
Defected Libyan soldiers attempt to load an ammunitions magazine into an anti-aircraft gun on the border of the eastern town of Ajdabiya, Libya.

TRIPOLI // Government opponents in opposition-held Zawiya repelled an attempt by forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi to retake the city closest to the capital in six hours of fighting overnight, witnesses said on Tuesday.

The rebels, who included defected army forces, were armed with tanks, machine guns and anti-aircraft guns. They fought back pro-Qaddafi troops, armed with the same weapons, who attacked from six directions. There was no word on casualties in Zawiya, 50 kilometres west of Tripoli.

"We will not give up Zawiya at any price," said one witness. "We know it is significant strategically. They will fight to get it, but we will not give up. We managed to defeat them because our spirits are high and their spirits are zero."

Col Qaddafi, Libya's ruler for 41 years, has already lost control of the eastern half of the country since protests demanding his departure began two weeks ago. He still holds the capital Tripoli and nearby cities.

The witnesses said youths from Zawiya were stationed on the rooftops of high-rise buildings in the city to monitor the movements of the pro-Qaddafi forces and sound the warning if they though an attack was imminent. They also spoke about generous offers of cash by the regime for the rebels to hand control of the city back to authorities.

Col Qaddafi has launched the most brutal crackdown of any Arab regime facing a wave of anti-government uprisings spreading quickly around the Middle East. But international pressure to end the crackdown has escalated dramatically in the past few days.

The US moved naval and air forces closer to Libya on Monday and said all options were open, including patrols of the North African nation's skies to protect its citizens from their ruler.

France said it would fly aid to the opposition-controlled eastern half of the country. The European Union imposed an arms embargo and other sanctions, following the lead of the US and the UN. The EU was also considering the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya. And the US and Europe were freezing billions in Libya's foreign assets.

Col Qaddafi laughed off a question from the US's ABC News about whether he would step down as the Obama administration is demanding.

"My people love me. They would die for me," he said. ABC reported that Col Qaddafi invited the United Nations or any other organisation to Libya on a fact-finding mission.

His remarks were met with derision in Washington.

"It sounds, just frankly, delusional," said the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice.