French arms to Libya rebels expose tensions over war

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.

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