ZAWIYAH, Libya, (Reuters) – Rebels to the west and east of Libya’s increasingly isolated capital fought forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi yesterday for control of oil facilities vital to winning the six-month-old civil war.
In Zawiyah, 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli, they assaulted a coastal oil refinery to try to drive the last Gaddafi forces out and tighten their noose around the capital.
A rebel spokesman said a pipeline to Tripoli was cut. There was no word on the outcome of their assault after nightfall.
In Brega, on the eastern front, rebel forces said they had suffered 18 killed and 33 wounded on Tuesday and Wednesday in their battle to dislodge Gaddafi forces from the oil port and refinery, where they have been fighting for many days.
Fifteen of the rebels were killed on Tuesday and three on Wednesday, said spokesman Mohammad Zawawi.
Libyan state television showed video of Gaddafi supporters at the Brega terminal on Wednesday chanting the leader’s name.
After 41 years of supreme power, 69-year-old Gaddafi seems isolated. Rebel forces are closing in from the west, south and east, cutting off his Tripoli stronghold on the Mediterranean shore. Gaddafi’s whereabouts are not known.
Aided by NATO’s fighter-bombers, assault helicopters and naval blockade, the rebels have transformed the battle in the last few days after many weeks of stalemate.
Zawiyah controls the western highway linking Tripoli to Tunisia. Gaddafi forces were holding the refinery there and harassing rebels in the city with shelling and sniper fire.
“There are some snipers inside the refinery facility. We control the gates of the refinery. We will be launching an operation to try to take control of it shortly,” a rebel fighter, Abdulkarim Kashaba, said earlier yesterday.