Libyan rebels edge toward Tripoli assault
Libyan rebels, who are battling Qaddafi's forces for control of the country's last functioning oil refinery, say they'll be in Tripoli by the end of August.
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After making stunning advances toward Tripoli, the stronghold of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, rebel fighters are locked in a battle with Colonel Qaddafi's forces for control of the oil refinery in the nearby town of Zawiyah.
The refinery is the last functioning one in the country, although its output has been severely decreased because the flow of crude oil from fields in other parts of the country has been almost completely halted. Capturing the refinery would be more a symbolic victory for the rebels than a strategic one, the Associated Press reports.
"The rebel advance is tightening the noose around Tripoli," according to AP. While rebel troops close in from the west and south of the city, Tripoli's port is blockaded by NATO. The rebels are also trying to sever all the supply lines to Tripoli and claim that they have already cut the gas pipeline into the city. Most of the gasoline Qaddafi needs in Tripoli is brought in from Tunisia and Algeria via roads to the south and west, not from Zawiyah.
NATO spokesman Col. Roland Lavoie said that the rebels' progress in the last couple days is "the most significant anti-Qaddafi territorial gain we have seen in months." He says that the rebels are taking control of all the key approaches to Tripoli, CNN reports. However, Libyan state television reported that Qaddafi's forces, supported by tribal fighters, had secured the coastal road into Tripoli and pushed rebel forces out of the nearby city of Sabratha, which rebels claim to control.
Rebel military spokesman Col. Ahmed Banni told CNN that they expect to enter Tripoli by the end of August. Rebels there were recently given arms, but have been told to wait until "zero hour" to launch any attacks.
As Qaddafi's grip eroded, the UN special envoy for Libya met in Tunisia with Qaddafi regime officials and possibly also representatives of the Libyan rebel government. Abdel-Elah al-Khatib, the former Jordanian foreign minister, said that he was meeting with representatives from both sides, but the National Transitional Council denied that it sent anyone to the meeting, The Telegraph reports.