Battles rage over Libyan cities
Forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi pound Az-Zawiyah and Ras Lanuf as world debates imposition of a no-fly zone.
Last Modified: 10 Mar 2011 06:25 GMT


Pro- and anti-government forces are locked in intense fighting for control of several cities and towns across Libya, where a near month-long uprising is threatening to end Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's more than 41-year-old rule.

Some of the fiercest fighting is taking place in the strategic oil city of Az-Zawiyah, 50km west of the capital Tripoli.

"The revolutionaries control the centre of Zawiyah and Gadhafi's forces are surrounding it. It's 50-50," a resident who fled the city said.

"There was no one in the streets, the town is completely deserted, and there are snipers on the roofs," he said, adding that he did not know which side they were on.

Forces loyal to Gaddafi say they have wrested the city from the hands of rebels, a claim denied by those ranged against the Libyan leader.

Any independent confirmation of the claims and counter-claims, however, is difficult since journalists are unable to reach the city.

Flashpoint cities in Libya

But residents said the city had been under sustained attack from pro-Gaddafi forces, aided by tanks and war planes.

There are also reports of fighting raging in the eastern port city of Ras Lanuf, where an oil installation has gone up in flames.

Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland, reporting from the frontline, described a steady volley of mortar and rocket fire, blanketing the sky with dark smoke, turning day to night.

"Pro-Gaddafi forces unleash a savage counter-offencive against the town of Ras Lanuf," Rowland said. "Rebel fighters sitting on the ground are vulnerable, and they know it."

The rebel fighters are largely inexperienced. Abdul Razik Bubakar, 32, car mechanic who has joined anti-Gaddafi forces, told the AP news agency that he is learning how to use anti-aircraft gun on the fly.

"I didn't know anything about it. I just learnt in two or three days. Now I know how to use it, thanks to God. Now I am really quick using it, cleaning it and fixing it," said Bubakar. 

"Maybe I don't have enough knowledge for this, but when I do it, thanks to God, it works out."

The battles are raging as rebels pile on pressure on the international community to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to cripple Gaddaf's airforce.

While several world powers have backed such a measure, the modalities are yet to be worked out with Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, saying such a move should be driven by the United Nations and not the United States.

NATO and European Union are beginning fresh talks on a no-fly zone on Thursday.

Amid such discussions, Gaddafi has launched his own diplomatic effort, sending emissaries to Brussels and Cairo.

Journalists tortured

Meanwhile, Britain has condemned the arrest and torture of three BBC journalists in Libya, saying it was more proof of atrocities committed by Gaddafi's regime.

Read more of our Libya coverage

The three were subjected to mock execution after being arrested on Monday at a checkpoint nearly 10km south of Az-Zawiyah. 

The three men were then taken to a military barracks in Tripoli where they "suffered repeated assaults" by members of Libya's army and secret police before being released 21 hours later.

One of the reporters said he had seen 10 or 12 men from Az-Zawiyah in a prison cell who were "badly beaten", bearing signs of "torture on their faces and their bodies".

Cameraman Goktay Koraltan said he "heard a lot of screaming" where he was being held. "... I've seen a lot of bad stuff," he said.

The Libyan government has restricted the movements of foreign journalists based in Tripoli and says they must
only travel with official escorts.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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