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Libyan Rebels Break Out in Nusafa Mountains

Libyan rebels in the Nusafa region have seized several hamlets from Qadaffi's forces raising hopes they will advance towards Tripoli
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 7/11/2011, 6:04 PM / Last Update: 7/11/2011, 7:43 PM

As the Arab Spring draws into an inconclusive Arab Summer, Libyan rebels said Monday they clashed with forces loyal to strongman Muamar Qadaffi in the vicinity of Gualish, the AFP reports.

"There is a battle in the mountain of Zarat, near Kikla north of Gualish," said Wael Brashen, who commands a small rebel unit in the area.

The clashes come four days after rebels seized the hamlet in the plains north of their enclave in the Nafusa mountains in a bid to push the front line closer to the capital.

"Since 2:00 am, Qadaffi's forces have been striking intermittently with Grad rockets and 106-calibre anti-tank cannons," he said. 

The fighting broke out at 5:00 am when rebels launched a counterattack.

Brashen said the shelling also targeted a road linking Kikla to Al-Assaba, 17 kilometres from Gualish, which Qadaffi's forces are fighting to recapture.

The president of the rebel media centre of Kikla, Redwan al-Qadi told AFP that on Sunday "small battles" pitted rebel fighters against Qadaffi's forces in the area of Gualish, without causing casualties.

The rebels, who seized Gualish on Wednesday, vowed they would march to Al-Assaba and from there onto Gharyan, a loyalist stronghold and the last major city south of Tripoli.

The rebels say they want to close off supply routes from the south and hope to link up with rebel elements in the town of Zawiyha, scene of some of the worst fighting with Qadaffi forces.

But analysts question how, despite the warm enthusiasm pumping in rebel veins, rebels leaders can expect to push into Qadaffi's strongholds around Tripoli without signifianct NATO assistance. 

Rebels broke a weeks-long stalemate in the Nafusa mountain range last week, marching to the plains of Gualish, and also launched an offensive against the coastal town of Zliten, about 150 kilometers east of Tripoli.

The break out comes some two weeks after it was revealed France had decided to arm Libya's rebels.