ZAWIYAH: Libya’s rebels claimed early Monday to have wrested control from Moamer Qadhafi’s forces of the towns of Sorman west of Tripoli and Garyan to the south, putting them in sight of the capital.
The advances mean that Tripoli’s supply lines from Tunisia are severed, according to Abdulsalam Othman, spokesman for the rebels’ western military council.
“We now have full control” of the 15 kilometre (nine mile) stretch of road between the coastal cities of Sorman and Zawiyah, Othman said, adding however that the battle for Zawiyah, 40 kilometres west of Tripoli, was still raging.
“All the entrance gates (of Sorman and Garyan) are under the control” of the rebels, he said, but admitted the “presence of an unknown number” of Qadhafi’s snipers in some residential areas.
The advance on Sorman, about 60 kilometres west of Tripoli, started at dawn on Sunday, Othman said.
After more than 10 hours of intense battle, the rebels managed to force Qadhafi’s troops to retreat. During the fight, more than 40 fighters, some of them sub-Saharan African mercenaries, were captured.
The battle for Garyan, some 50 kilometres south of Tripoli, also raged throughout Sunday, he said.
“All roads and access to the city are under our control except the western neighbourhood of Asabia,” he said.
Rebel forces failed however to make headway against Qadhafi loyalists in the strategic port town of Zawiyah, maintaining control of the southern and western gates but not being able to advance towards the centre of the city.
Bashir Ahmed Ali, commander of the battalion fighting to wrest the town from loyalist forces, told AFP rebels had advanced three kilometres into Zawiyah but no further.
Loyalist troops, he added, still control Zawiyah’s main square and the entire east of the town.
The battle intensified after Sunday’s midday prayers, with Qadhafi forces heavily shelling areas controlled by the rebels.
Snipers are also positioned in many government buildings and residential areas, Ahmed Ali said.
He said there were “difficulties” in advancing due to the “presence of hostage civilians” in buildings used by the snipers. Six rebel fighters were killed during the day in Zawiyah alone.
On the three frontlines, Ahmed Ali said, a total of 12 rebel fighters lost their lives and dozens suffered injuries.
He said a total of 52 Qadhafi loyalists were captured.