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Qaddafi's forces repelled in bid to retake western Libya city

An attack by Muammar Qaddafi's forces on Zawiyah, Libya, was turned back by opposition forces Monday. Neither side seems able to gain the upper hand.

By Correspondent / March 1, 2011

A convoy of 18 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid, bound for Benghazi, travels past a Libyan army tank and a mural praising Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi in the Tripoli suburb of Gaser Ben Ghisher, on Tuesday, Mar. 1.

Chris Helgren/Reuters

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Forces of Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi tried to retake a city near his capital stronghold but were repelled by opposition forces – a sign that neither side has enough power to overwhelm the other and that a long battle may lie ahead for control of Libya.

Col. Qaddafi has already lost control of the eastern half of the country, but both sides are battling for control of the western half, where the capital Tripoli is located. Qaddafi remains in control of Tripoli.

Al Jazeera reports that on Monday night, Qaddafi’s forces attacked opposition-controlled Zawiyah, the closest city to Tripoli (about 30 miles away). The battle, which lasted six hours, ended with the rebels repulsing Qaddafi's forces, Al Jazeera reported.

"We will not give up Az-Zawiyah at any price,'' one witness said on Tuesday. "We know it is significant strategically. They will fight to get it, but we will not give up. We managed to defeat them because our spirits are high and their spirits are zero."

Qaddafi’s forces, apparently the elite Khamis Brigade led by one of his sons, attacked from six directions, using the same weapons the opposition forces used to defend the city: tanks, machine guns, and anti-aircraft guns. Al Jazeera reports the fighting intensified after dark, and residents of the city are expecting another major battle.

The Washington Post reports that the Libyan Air Force launched airstrikes on several targets Monday, and that fighting also broke out in Misratah, about 125 miles east of Tripoli.

There, a helicopter reportedly tried to destroy the antennae of a local radio station used by the opposition. Residents shot at the helicopter with antiaircraft weapons and it flew away, reports the Post. The Monitor reported Monday that a new independent radio station, the “Voice of Free Libya” in Benghazi, is a step toward the democratic society Libyans hope to build after ousting Qaddafi.

The New York Times reported that air strikes targeted an oil refinery in central Libya and said the strikes are an indication that the Qaddafi regime is stronger than some of the opposition seems willing to admit. According to the Times, this was the first time in 10 days that Qaddafi’s forces launched attacks by warplanes. Prior to this, opposition leaders claimed that all Air Force pilots had defected to the opposition.

The attacks by the colonel’s troops on an oil refinery in central Libya and on cities on either side of the country unsettled rebel leaders — who have maintained that they are close to liberating the country — and showed that despite defections by the military, the government may still possess powerful assets, including fighter pilots willing to bomb Libyan cities.

The attacks came as Qaddafi gave a press conference to several Western media outlets in Tripoli in an apparent attempt to prove that he is still in control. In an interview with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour, he said “They love me, all my people…. they will die to protect me.” He laughed when Ms. Amanpour asked if he might leave Libya. (See video report "Gadhafi tells ABC he cannot step down.")

Meanwhile, Western leaders were debating whether to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, which some of the opposition have asked for. The Pentagon sent ships to the area to prepare for enforcing such a zone or offering humanitarian aid, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The Monitor reported Monday that a humanitarian crisis is building on Libya’s border with Tunisia as thousands of migrant workers flee the country and are camped out on the Tunisian side of the border.

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