June 18, 2013
Gaddafi troops launch assault on Libya oil port
Troops loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi battled to retake the oil port of Ras Lanuf intensifying their counter-offensive against the out-gunned insurgents.
Government forces, with air supremacy and a big advantage in tanks, appear to have regained the momentum in the three-week old conflict and if their push proceeds apace it could overtake sluggish international efforts to halt Gaddafi.
The sound of explosions and small arms fire came from Ras Lanuf and smoke rose from the town. Rebel forces said they were still inside the residential area of the oil port and fighting government tanks as well as troops who landed by boat.
"Four boats carrying 40 to 50 men each landed there. We are fighting them right now," rebel spokesman Mohammed al-Mughrabi said, but he declined to say exactly where he was.
Rebel fighter Ibrahim al-Alwani said he and his comrades were still in Ras Lanuf and had seen government troops in the town center. "I saw maybe 150 men and three tanks," he said.
Insurgents withdrew their last main checkpoint in Ras Lanuf on Friday, setting it up 15-20 km (10-13 miles) to the east.
"This is our last checkpoint, ahead are clashes. The clashes are in the residential area (of Ras Lanuf)," rebel fighter Youssef Mohannad told Reuters at the checkpoint.
The insurgents were angry at the international inaction.
"Where is the West? How are they helping? What are they doing," shouted one angry fighter.
As international bodies agonise over whether, or how to impose a no-fly zone, Gaddafi's warplanes carried out an air strike behind enemy lines near Uqaylah, witnesses said, and rebels reported another bombing further east near Brega.
West of Tripoli, the revolt in Zawiyah appeared all but crushed, with insurgents clinging to only parts of the shattered city. Residents described scenes of carnage, with women and children among the dead.
One fighter said rebels had retaken the heart of Zawiyah from the army overnight, but authorities have kept journalists away from the town, about 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli.
Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam told the rebels they faced a full-scale assault to crush their uprising which began after Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in neighbouring Egypt a month ago.
"It's time for action. We are moving now," he told Reuters in an interview on Thursday. He said the government had given the rebels two weeks for negotiations. "Time is out now."