Rebels battle to close in on Gadhafi

Bleak future: The damaged Al Fateh University building is reflected in the sunglasses of a student in Tripoli, Libya, on Saturday. Officials claim one of the buildings at the university complex was hit by a Nato airstrike. AP

Fighting between forces loyal to Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi and rebels trying to close in on his territory killed at least eight rebels near the northwestern city of Nalut, an insurgent source said.

The gun battles in the village of Takut, just outside Nalut, on Saturday followed exchanges of heavy artillery fire near the city of Zlitan as the insurgents tried to take government-held territory east of the capital Tripoli.

The rebels are seeking to seal off Tripoli from the east and west but their advances have been slow and weeks of Nato strikes pounding Gadhafi’s compound and other targets have failed to bring an end to his 41-year-old rule.

“The battles started on Friday and are continuing today in Takut,” the fighter, Abou Saa, told Reuters from Nalut, in arid hills some 200 km southwest of Tripoli.

“The revolutionaries destroyed six armoured vehicles and killed more than 45 enemy soldiers. The rebels surrounded Gadhafi’s forces, who are holed up in a compound (in Takut).”

He added that 13 rebels were wounded in the fighting.

On the other side of Tripoli, Zlitan, 160 km to the east, is the next major town on the Mediterranean coastal road to the capital from the rebel stronghold of Misrata. Capturing it would greatly advance the rebels’ strategy of cutting off Tripoli from all sides.

A Reuters team in Dafniya, on the outskirts of Misrata, said rebels fired artillery and rocket launchers on Friday but things were quieter on Saturday.

Nato planes resumed bombardments of Tripoli on Friday. Six explosions sent columns of black smoke into the sky.

Meanwhile, Gadhafi vowed to defeat Nato nonetheless.

“This is the first time they are facing an armed nation of millions. The alliance will be defeated,” he said in an audio speech on Libyan television on Friday. “We are in our country and we are determined to stay and defend it,” he added. Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali Al-Mahmoudi told a late night news conference that Libya would appeal to the UN Security Council for a halt to Nato’s aerial bombings. 

He said one air strike had hit Al Fateh University.

“It has become clear to us that Nato has moved on to deliberately target civilian buildings. Who is killing civilians now? It is indeed Nato,” he said.

Libyan state-owned Jamahiriya TV said later the prime minister had called UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to call for an extraordinary session to investigate.

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