Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s forces launched a fierce counterattack against rebels in a the strategic western city of Zawiya on Friday, The Associated Press reported.
According to the report, the rebels fired rockets, mortar shells and anti-aircraft guns in a bid to keep the rebels from gaining complete control and advancing toward the nearby capital. The rebels reported they had captured parts of the city earlier this week.
NATO’s bombing campaign in Libya has made it difficult for Qaddafi’s regime to send massive reinforcements to Zawiya, a fact which has enabled the rebels to maintain a foothold in the city.
AP noted, however, that Friday’s fierce onslaught by regime forces signaled that a push by the rebels toward Tripoli, Qaddafi’s main stronghold, would be arduous and bloody.
The rebels also claimed on Friday they had seized the western city of Zlitan after clashes with regime forces that left 31 rebels dead and 120 injured.
“The fighters have liberated Zlitan and they are fighting west of the city,” a rebel spokesman was quoted by AP as having said. He added Qaddafi’s forces were fleeing after Friday’s victory and the rebels are in control of the city.
The claim couldn’t be independently verified.
The rebels are also claiming they seized Gharyan, a second strategic town near Tripoli. That announcement was made on Monday.
Meanwhile, as fighting intensified in Libya, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced its plans to start evacuating “large numbers” of foreigners, including some journalists, from Tripoli in coming days.
IOM spokeswoman Jemini Pandya was quoted by AP as having said the organization has appealed to donors for emergency funding for the rescue effort, needed because the road between Tunisia and Tripoli has been closed.
“We have a very limited window of opportunity to carry out this operation because of the fighting, so it is essential that we are not constrained by a lack of funds from the outset,” she was quoted as saying.
(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)