Libyan rebels push back into oil town

A Libyan volunteer unloading medical supplies Mondayfrom a Jordanian military plane at the airport in Benghazi.
A Libyan volunteer unloading medical supplies Mondayfrom a Jordanian military plane at the airport in Benghazi.
Posted: April 05, 2011

BREGA, Libya - Rebel fighters pushed back into this hard-fought oil town Monday, seizing half of Brega and pledging to drive out Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces in hours in an advance that would open a vital conduit for oil sales by the oppostion.

Control of Brega's small refinery and Mediterranean port could significantly boost the rebels' hunt for revenues that they could use to buy heavy weapons for the fight against Gadhafi's better-equipped troops and militiamen.

Lightly armed and loosely organized opposition forces have surged into and beyond Brega several times in recent weeks from their strongholds in eastern Libya, only to be driven out by Gadhafi loyalists. In recent days the opposition has placed the front lines under the control of former military men, creating a more disciplined advance against Gadhafi's forces.

"We're more organized now, and that's played a big role," said Salam Idrisi, 42, a rebel fighter.

The opposition advanced under artillery fire throughout the day and took the streets of New Brega, a largely residential section separated from the town's oil facilities by a stretch of highway and a university campus, where the rebels were battling Gadhafi fighters at close range.

The rebels also saw success Monday in their efforts to establish an internationally recognized government in eastern Libya, forging tighter links with Britain and Italy, both potentially major markets for Libyan oil.

Italy offered diplomatic recognition to the Libyan opposition council, becoming the third country to do so after France and Qatar. The Italian foreign minister also said the CEO of the energy company Eni had visited the rebels' de facto capital, Benghazi, with the aim of resuming oil ties.

Eni has extensive oil facilities in eastern Libya and was Libya's biggest gas exporter and oil producer before the uprising split the country.

Britain said it would supply communications equipment to the rebels, but did not say what kind. It denied the gear was intended to help wage attacks against Gadhafi's forces.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague also told the House of Commons that the United Nations and the European Union may consider dropping sanctions against some members of Gadhafi's regime if they abandon their support for the Libyan dictator.

The Obama administration dropped sanctions Monday against Moussa Koussa, the Libyan intelligence chief and foreign minister who fled to Britain last week, the New York Times reported. Koussa's close knowledge of the ruling circle could be invaluable in trying to strip Gadhafi of support, it reported, but Koussa is also widely believed to be implicated in acts of terrorism and murder over the last three decades, including the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Also Monday, U.S. mioitary attack planes struck targets on a stretch of Mediterranean coastline near the cities of Sirte and Brega, the final day of planned U.S. combat missions in the nation. The U.S. military was shifting to a support role, officials said.

Under NATO's leadership, Britain, France, and other allies will now provide the fighter jets for intercept and ground-attack missions that enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, they said.

Developments In the Region

Bahrain: Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called on Saudi Arabia to pull its troops out of Bahrain, where they are helping the Sunni monarchy battle a Shiite-led protest movement demanding equal rights and a political voice. On Sunday, the gulf Arab nations' political bloc, the Gulf Cooperation Council, condemned what it said was an Iranian attempt to aggravate sectarian tension in Bahrain.

Syria: A new governor was sworn in to rule

the troubled Daraa province, the center of antigovernment protests in which at least 80 people have been killed. Replacing the governor was one of the gestures President Bashar al-Assad made trying to defuse the protests.

- Associated Press

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