AL-QAWALISH, Libya, (Reuters) – Rebel fighters seized A village south of the Libyan capital and another group advanced towards Tripoli from the east yesterday in the biggest push in weeks towards Muammar Gaddafi’s main stronghold.
Rebels firing their rifles into the air in celebration poured into the village of Al-Qawalish, 100 km (60 miles) southwest of Tripoli, after a six-hour battle with pro-Gaddafi forces who had been holding the town.
Rushing through an abandoned checkpoint where government troops had left tents and half-eaten bread in their rush to get away, the rebels ripped down pro-Gaddafi flags.
Farther north, rebels pushed westward from the city of Misrata to within 13 km of the centre of the town of Zlitan, where large numbers of pro-Gaddafi forces are based.
But they came under artillery fire. Doctors at the al-Hekma hospital in Misrata said 14 fighters had been killed on Wednesday and about 50 were injured.
The advances came amid reports that Gaddafi — under pressure from a five-month uprising against his rule, sanctions and a NATO bombing campaign — was seeking a deal under which he would step down.
His government has denied any such negotiations are underway, and NATO’s chief said he had no confirmation that Gaddafi was looking for a deal to relinquish power.
A Libyan official told Reuters on Wednesday there were signs a solution to the conflict could be found by the start of August, though he did not say what that solution might involve.
In the rebel-held cities of Benghazi and Misrata , thousands demonstrated against Gadaffi, waving European and rebel flags and calling for the end of his four-decade rule.
The rebel advances followed weeks of largely static fighting. Heavily armed Gaddafi forces still lie between the rebels and Tripoli, and previous rebel advances have either bogged down or quickly turned into retreats.