Libyan rebels claim they captured part of Brega

August 12, 2011 - 1:45 PM
Mideast Libya

Mansur Mohamed, 9, makes the victory sign at the seaside of the rebel-held town of Benghazi, Libya, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Libyan rebels battling Moammar Gadhafi's troops along the country's Mediterranean coast have claimed they captured part of a strategic port city that has repeatedly changed hands in the 6-month-old civil war.

Rebel spokesman Mohammed al-Zwawi said he was with the fighters when they gained control Thursday of a residential unit in Brega.

Brega is a wide strip of desert made up of two residential units about 6 miles (10 kilometers) apart, followed by the oil refineries near the port on the Mediterranean Sea.

"We have taken the first residential unit and we are fighting in the second one now," al-Zwawi told The Associated Press on Friday.

His claim could not be immediately verified and officials in the Libyan capital Tripoli made no comment on it.

Eleven rebels died in the clashes and 40 were wounded, rebel leader Mohammed Idris said late Thursday.

Brega, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) southwest of the de-facto rebel capital of Benghazi, fell under rebel control briefly in March, but was recaptured by Gadhafi's forces shortly afterward. The fighting around the city has gone back and forth since then, with the rebels not managing to keep their ground.

Whoever controls Brega's strategic oil terminal, which is also Libya's second-largest hydrocarbon complex, is in charge of the country's main oil fields.

A video released on Youtube showed a rebel fighter performing the call to prayer from the top of a mosque's minaret in Brega, as the rebel tricolor flag fluttered beside him. The video carried Thursday's date, but the location of the mosque could not be independently verified.

Libya's civil war has been deadlocked for months despite NATO's airstrikes to protect civilians.

The revolt began in February, with the rebels quickly wresting control of much of the eastern half of the country, as well as pockets in the west.

The conflict later settled into a stalemate with the rebels failing to budge the front lines in the east since April.

However, in recent weeks, rebels based in the western Nafusa mountains have made some gains, advancing toward Gadhafi-held towns along the coast.

In Tripoli, the Libyan government banned all unlicensed satellite phones, the state news agency JANA reported.

Anyone caught using one without a permit will be charged as a spy for NATO and sentenced to death as punishment for treason, JANA said.

Many Libyans have been using satellite phones to communicate with one another after the government cut off mobile phone communications when the civil war began.

Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said his country will stick with the international campaign against Libya's longtime leader until "the end."

Sarkozy said Friday that France's military effort — central to the NATO-led operation — "will remain constant."

He spoke to forces aboard the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, which was operating off the Libyan coast for months and was crucial to the NATO campaign.

___

Al-Shalchi reported from Cairo. Associated Press Writer Karin Laub in Zintan, Libya contributed to this report.