Rebels step up assault on western Libya

Hundreds of fighters were on the move along the road from the mountain town of Yafran towards the front lines, where heavy fighting seemed to be under way. The ground reverberated with loud booms and rocket fire echoed from the distance.

Their first objective was the town of Bir Ghanam, about 30 km north of Yafran. As fighting raged there, the body of one rebel fighter killed earlier in the morning was brought back to the nearby town of Bir Ayad.

The rebel forces are aiming to “first liberate Bir Ghanam” and then would move on to Zawiya, a key city on the Mediterranean coast  50 km away, said two rebel fighters, Jumma Hussein and Youssef Bilin.

“We have thousands of fighters involved,” Hussein said.

The assault is an attempt to open a new front and break the military deadlock that has emerged in Libya’s civil war. Gadhafi’s regime controls much of the west, with its stronghold in Tripoli, while the rebels hold the east, with pockets in the west. But neither side has made significant gains for months. A Nato bombing campaign directed against government forces is now in its fifth month but has so far failed to help the poorly equipped rebels advance far beyond their strongholds.

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