Libya's Zlitan rebels struggle to inch forward

  • 21 June 2011
  • From the section Africa
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I am crouching low behind a wall of earth on the Libyan frontline outside the town of Zlitan.

There is a gun battle to the north, and artillery rounds landing in the woods behind us.

One screams in low, and explodes in a nearby orchard.

It feels almost like trench warfare here.

Slow and deadlocked - a daily battle to inch a few metres forward.

"God is great," shout the men, almost instinctively, as they duck rather nonchalantly for cover.

Many of the fighters here are residents of Zlitan, who have been smuggled out of the town to join the rebel offensive that is being co-ordinated by the forces in control of nearby Misrata.

Capturing, or "liberating" Zlitan, and advancing west towards Tripoli has been a key priority for the rebels, but they seem to be losing hope.

"I have family there," says a young man, who declines to give his name for fear his relatives will be targeted by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's troops inside Zlitan.

Although there is a great deal of muddle and politics hampering the rebel military here, the Zlitan fighters seem to have been dealt with quite thoughtfully.

Rather than fighting in one unit, they have been deliberately spread along the frontlines, in order to share their local knowledge and to try to overcome issues of pride and other local rivalries that exist between Zlitan and Misrata.

Akram Mazouzi, a tall young fighter from Zlitan, points to where black smoke is rising from a recent rocket attack.

"The rockets are falling all over the place," he says.

"And all we have to fight back with are light weapons. It's hard because Gaddafi has so much heavy artillery.

"People inside Zlitan must rise up together, and join forces with the fighters from Misrata.

"That's how we can push Gaddafi's troops out."

Growing frustration

Image caption Children play in the rubble of a Misrata home, near Zlitan, hit by an army rocket

The rebel's military spokesman, Ibrahim Bait Almal, confirms that diagnosis, and scolds Zlitan's inhabitants for failing to do more.

But that uprising is not happening - for a number of reasons.

An earlier rebellion was emphatically crushed by Colonel Gaddafi's forces, with more than 20 rebels reportedly killed.

The level of support for Colonel Gaddafi inside Zlitan is also hard to gauge.

Some people put it at 10%, but others say it's split fairly evenly.

I would imagine many civilians are simply keen to find ways to avoid bringing the war to their own doorsteps.

By satellite telephone, I have manage to reach a rebel leader in hiding inside Zlitan.

For obvious reasons, he has asked me not to use his name here.

"The situation is going bad. Nothing good. Food is not available, and fuel also not available.

"Every day they [Gaddafi's forces] are arresting people - they have checkpoints everywhere; every 100m they will check you.

"There is no fighting, because we finished everything here. We don't have military equipment," he says.

I ask him if they have run out of ammunition.

"Yes. We are waiting for things to change from outside Zlitan - we are waiting for Misrata rebels to come."

The man says he can hear Nato bombs landing outside the town, but Colonel Gaddafi's forces are still managing to hide much of their heavy weaponry.

"They put rocket launchers inside the mosques and the hospitals… and every public place," he says. "Still he will lose, because he fighting his people, you know. His military forces cannot fight their families."

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