28 Mar 2011

Rebels push west amid talk Gaddafi's home town seized

9:52 pm on 28 March 2011

Libya's ramshackle rebel army has pushed west to retake a series of towns from Muammar Gaddafi's forces, which are pulling back under pressure from Western air strikes.

The rebels, emboldened by the firepower of the air strikes, have rapidly reversed military losses in their five-week insurgency.

Mohammed, a senior rebel spokesman in Misrata, says help from the coalition forces is turning the balance of power in their favour.

Another rebel spokesman, Shamsiddin Abdulmolah, says Colonel Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte has been captured after rebels met little resistance. No independent verification was available.

A Reuters reporter in Sirte says there is no indication it is under rebel control, nor any signs of fighting.

Celebratory gunfire erupted and car horns sounded in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi as news of the rebel statement about Sirte spread.

The rebel army has pushed west to retake a series of towns from pro-Gaddafi forces who are being pounded by Western air strikes.

The rebels have regained control of all the main oil terminals in eastern Libya as far as the town of Bin Jawad.

The rebels' push came as Nato took full command of the military operation in Libya, after the United States said it would scale back its role in the in the next week or so.

Western forces led by the US, France and Britain began air attacks on government troops on 19 March to enforce a United Nations-sanctioned no-fly zone and protect civilians.

The rebels are once again in control of the main oil terminals, including the key port of Ras Lanuf as well as Brega, Uqayla and Bin Jawad after pro-Gaddafi forces withdrew under pressure from international air strikes.

But in Misrata, the only significant rebel-held city in Libya's west, eight people are reportedly dead after mortar fire from advancing pro-Gaddafi forces.