5 Mac 2011 Libya (AP) Witnesses say Moammar Gadhafi's forces have broken through rebel defenses at an opposition-held city that is closest to the Libyan capital, Tripoli. They said the forces loyal to the regime of the country's longtime leader were inside Zawiya, 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Tripoli, after overcoming rebel positions with heavy mortar shelling and machinegun fire.
The rattle of gunfire and explosions could be heard as the witnesses spoke to The Associated Press by phone. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears for their safety. They say several fires are raging in Zawiya on Saturday.
4 Mac 2011 TRIPOLI, Moammar Gadhafi's regime struck back at its opponents with a powerful attack Friday on the closest opposition-held city to Tripoli and a barrage of tear gas and live ammunition to smother new protests in the capital. At least 37 people died in fighting and in an explosion at an ammunitions depot in Libya's rebellious east.
The bloodshed signaled an escalation in efforts by both sides to break the deadlock that has gripped Libya's 18-day upheaval, which has lasted longer than the Egyptian revolt that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and inspired a wave of protests across the region.
So far, Gadhafi has had little success in taking back territory, with several rebel cities repelling assaults and the entire eastern half of the country under rebel control. But the opposition forces have seemed unable to go on the offensive to march on pro-Gadhafi areas.
In the morning, troops from the elite Khamis Brigade — named after the Gadhafi son who commands it — bombarded the city's western edges with mortar shells, heavy machine guns, tanks and anti-aircraft weapons, several residents said. By the evening, another brigade had opened a front on the eastern side. Armed Zawiya citizens backed by allied army units were fighting back.
The commander of the rebel forces — Col. Hussein Darbouk — was killed by fire from an anti-aircraft gun, said Alaa al-Zawi, an activist in the city. Darbouk was a colonel in Gadhafi's army who defected along with other troops in Zawiya early in the uprising.
Demonstration: Anti-Gaddafi groups take to the streets in Benghazi after Friday prayers
Tribute: Libyan rebels fire in the air in Benghazi yesterday during a mass funeral for a fellow protester who was killed during fighting with Gaddafi forces
Defiant: Defected soldiers and volunteers shout and cheer on the outskirts of the eastern town of Brega, Libya