Volunteer chef boosts Libyan rebels' flagging morale

But volunteer caterer Adel, imperturbable even after a long drive to the front, parked his car and distributed cups of rice.

Around him, rebels raised their arms and cried: "Allahu Akbar", forgetting the jet for a moment, even as it disappeared back into the west.

Adel Kablan, a 41-year-old father-of-five had just made the 330-kilometre (190-mile) round trip from Benghazi, headquarters of the revolt in eastern Libya, to bring rebels food his family had cooked early in the morning.

In the distance, a miasmic black smoke cloud billowed from Ras Lanuf's bombed oil depots. Libyan military units loyal to leader Moamer Kadhafi retook the town on Thursday after a fierce battle with the insurgents.

Kadhafi's forces have been making daily progress, pushing back the rebels with bombs, rockets and mortars.

"It breaks my heart to watch our men in retreat," said Adel, handing a rebel a ration of rice and meat as they fell back from the beleaguered coastal village of Uqayla. "But with God's help, we can turn it around."

Suddenly, a string of eight explosions rocked the desert hard enough to make the stones roll.

Five kilometres away smoke rose from the desert plain. "We were over there this morning, 30 kilometres away, near Ras Lanuf," said 40-year-old Wanis Muftar. "But we had to pull back under the weight of the bombing."

The rebels are facing air strikes and artillery, and their lack of combat experience and training are compounded by the logistical challenge of forming efficient supply lines.
"We are like fingers on the same hand. Adel does not fight with us, but he brings us food every day," said 32-year-old Tariq, while his comrades ate in small groups, sitting in the sand or on the back of their pick-up.

"The first time I came to the front, I saw young fighters eating bread and cheese and drinking water. That's all they had before going into battle. I had to help them, feed them," he said.

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