Government troops have recaptured the strategic town of Bir Ghanam, southwest of Tripoli, from rebel forces, Libyan Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmudi told reporters yesterday.
“Life is back to normal in Bir Ghanam, and today it is under the full control of the regime,” Mahmudi said, a day after rebels said they captured the town which lies just 80km from the capital.
Libyan rebels from the Berber-dominated Nafusa mountain range south of Tripoli claimed the capture of Bir Ghanam on Saturday as they pushed further east toward the capital.
A correspondent on the scene said rebels from the Berber-dominated Nafusa mountains began a two-pronged assault from Bir Ayad earlier that day. By late afternoon, rebel commanders said Bir Ghanam had been taken.
NATO said its warplanes attacked 45 targets across Libya on Saturday, including an ammunition storage facility and a multiple rocket launcher system in the Bir Ghanam area.
The rebels have been using the Nafusa mountain range as a springboard to advance on Tripoli but have encountered strong resistance from fighters loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
On Saturday, hundreds of rebel fighters also forked off towards the sea, advancing within 20km of Surman — which lies on the coastal road to the west of Tripoli — before meeting any resistance, a correspondent said.
Their path northward was veiled in black smoke and strewn with burned-out Libyan army vehicles, some with the bodies of soldiers inside, he said.
However, forces loyal to the veteran Libyan strongman fought back, laying down fire in a bid to halt the rebels’ advance.
Many of the rebels were from the “Tripoli Battalion,” a group of volunteers from the capital and other coastal towns eager to “liberate” their homes in the five-month-old revolt.
The battalion is said to have received military training in the Nafusa mountain range.
Zawiya, the rebel’s main target on the coast, was the scene of a major uprising by anti-Qaddafi protesters early on in the conflict. The protesters took over the city and drove out regime supporters, but then were brutally crushed in a long, bloody siege.
The rebels said last week that they hoped to reach the Libyan capital before the end of the Muslim fasting holy month of Ramadan, which began on Monday last week.
Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI yesterday called for a redoubling of efforts to restore peace in Libya and Syria.
In his weekly address to pilgrims, the pontiff asked for the “legitimate aspirations” of the Syrian people to be met, while urging the international community to revive efforts for a Libyan peace plan.
“I exhort the international organizations and those who bear political and military responsibility to revive with conviction and determination the search for a peace plan for the country, through negotiations and constructive dialogue,” the pontiff said. “Force of arms has not resolved the situation.”