Libyan rebels rout Gaddafi forces in strategic town

AJDABIYAH, Libya, (Reuters) – Libyan rebels backed  by allied air strikes retook the strategic town of Ajdabiyah today after an all-night battle that suggests the tide is  turning against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in the east.
Western warplanes bombed the outskirts of Misrata further  west to stop Gaddafi forces shelling the city, a rebel spokesman  said. One inhabitant said 115 people had died in Misrata in a  week and snipers were still shooting people from rooftops.
In Ajdabiyah, rebel fighters danced on tanks, waved flags  and fired in the air near buildings riddled with bulletholes.  Half a dozen wrecked tanks lay near the eastern entrance to the  town and the ground was strewn with empty shell casings.
There were signs of heavy fighting at Ajdabiyah’s western  gate. The decomposing bodies of more than a dozen Gaddafi  fighters were scattered on the ground. An abandoned truckload of  ammunition suggested Gaddafi forces had beaten a hasty retreat.
“All of Ajdabiyah is free and all the way to Brega is free,”  said Faraj Joeli, a 20-year-old computer science student turned  rebel fighter.
Capturing Ajdabiyah, a gateway from western Libya to the  rebel stronghold of Benghazi and the oil town of Tobruk, was a  big morale boost for the rebels after two weeks on the back  foot.
Western governments hope the raids, launched a week ago with  the aim of protecting civilians, will also shift the balance of  power in favour of the Arab world’s most violent popular revolt.
The rebels say they have been asking for arms from abroad to  fight the better-equipped Gaddafi forces but have received none.
A Reuters correspondent in Ajdabiyah said it seemed clear  that air attacks there on Friday afternoon had been decisive.
Gaddafi’s better-armed forces halted an early rebel advance  near the major oil export terminal of Ras Lanuf two weeks ago  and pushed them back to Benghazi, until Western powers struck  Gaddafi’s positions from the sea and air.
Witnesses and rebel fighters said the Gaddafi forces had now  retreated from Ajdabiyah towards the oil town of Brega.

Shelling by Gaddafi forces in Misrata, western Libya, eased  after they were bombed by foreign warplanes, rebel spokesman  Abdelbasset Abu Mzereiq told Reuters by telephone from the city.
Misrata is the only big rebel stronghold left in the west of  Libya and it is cut off from the main rebel force fighting  Gaddafi’s troops in the east. It has been encircled and under  bombardment for weeks.
“There was heavy shelling earlier. We know the allied planes  have made several raids and bombed several locations in the  outskirts. We know they bombed an ammunition site inside the air  base (south of the city),” said Mzereiq.
A rebel spokesman in Benghazi said two civilians in Misrata  were killed by shelling this morning and six injured.

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