Libyan rebels came under heavy artillery fire from Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s forces as they pushed yesterday toward the key oil town of Brega after having beaten a scattered retreat the previous day.
A column of fighters moved to within 1km of Brega University, where they set up a checkpoint, before Qaddafi forces began shelling them, a correspondent reported.
Black smoke billowed across the hills on the edge of the town, but it was unclear if the rebels were firing back with anything more than small arms.
Intermittent explosions had rumbled across the desert landscape on Sunday as the rebel vanguard traded rocket and artillery fire with Qaddafi forces inside the town.
Brega, 800km east of Tripoli, has been the scene of intense exchanges for several days, with both sides advancing only to withdraw again later under fire.
Early on Sunday, the rebels had pushed forward to seize the vast university campus on the outskirts of Brega before being ambushed by Qaddafi’s forces.
When they yesterday reached the site of the ambush, the rebels found the foxholes used by their opponents empty and they jubilantly set fire to discarded gray camouflage jackets left by the loyalist troops.
Most of the rebel volunteers acknowledged that they had neither the military training and discipline, nor the knowledge of the terrain to mount a frontal assault on Brega. They said they were dependent on the rebels’ few trained fighters, most of them defectors from the regular army.
Rebels said they had snuck into Brega overnight and stolen a four-wheel drive vehicle from Qaddafi’s forces.
They said many satellite photos of the area were found in the vehicle, while the backseats had been removed and the space filled with five spare tires — necessary in a war zone where shrapnel litters the roads.
Rebel fighter Aid Mabardi, wearing a black balaclava, said they had carried out the raid very early yesterday morning.
“At 2am, we snuck into Brega and stole the car,” he said. “We don’t have many cars. We steal what we can.”
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