NEAR BIR AL-GHANAM, Libya, (Reuters) – Libyan rebels gathered on a ridge overlooking a strategic town only 80 km (50 miles) from Tripoli yesterday, preparing for a battle that could allow them to march directly to the seat of Muammar Gaddafi’s power.
About 50 rebel fighters spent yesterday at an observation post 2 km outside the town of Bir al-Ghanam, using binoculars to try to assess the position of Gaddafi’s forces.
They reached the area on Sunday after fighting in the Western Mountains southwest of Tripoli, an area where France said this week it had air-dropped arms, provoking a diplomatic storm among world powers.
A French military spokesman confirmed yesterday a report in Le Figaro that rocket launchers and assault rifles were among arms parachuted in, prompting an angry reaction from Russia, one of many countries who have kept doors open to Gaddafi.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said supplying arms was a “crude violation” of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970, which imposed a comprehensive arms embargo in February.
Gaddafi’s forces in Bir al-Ghanam know the rebels are watching them from the ridge. At one point yesterday they fired mortars and artillery, sending people running for cover.
The town is just an hour’s drive from Aziziyah on Tripoli’s southern outskirts, and a similar distance from Zawiyah, which controls the coastal highway that links Tripoli to the Tunisian border and the outside world.
A trickle of fighters from around the region joined them throughout the day. Some came from Zintan, in the mountains behind them, while others said they had made their way clandestinely from Zawiyah, where Gaddafi’s forces have put down two revolts since February.