Rockets push back rebels south of Libyan capital

BIR-AYYAD, Libya,  (Reuters) – Libyan rebels who had  advanced to within 80 km (50 miles) of Muammar Gaddafi’s  stronghold in the capital were forced to retreat yesterday after  coming under a barrage of rocket fire from government forces.

The rebels advanced five days ago to the outskirts of the  small town of Bir al-Ghanam, raising the possibility of a  breakthrough in a four-month old conflict that has become the  bloodiest of the “Arab Spring” uprisings.

Rebel fighters who had been massing on a ridge near Bir  al-Ghanam and preparing for an attack were pulled back under  fire from Russian-made Grad rockets, said a Reuters photographer  in Bir-Ayyad, 30 km to the south.

The rebels returned to the same positions on the edges of  Bir al-Ghanam yesterday afternoon, Reuters reporters there said.

The rocket barrage reached as far back as Bir-Ayyad, a road  junction in the foothills of the Western Mountains range  south-west of Tripoli from where the rebels had launched their  advance last week.

The back-and-forth battle underlined the military stalemate  between Gaddafi’s forces, who have withstood 15 weeks of  bombardment by NATO missiles and warplanes, and rebels  attempting to break through their lines on three fronts.

In an address carried by Libyan television and broadcast to  some 100,000 supporters who gathered on Friday in Tripoli’s  Green Square, Gaddafi vowed to stay on and warned NATO to stop  its air war or face defeat.

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