Rebels 'take town' near Tripoli


Libyan rebels are reportedly in control of the town of Bir al-Ghanam, about 80km south of the capital, Tripoli, after a battle at the weekend.

A Reuters reporter said he was in the centre of Bir al-Ghanam where there was no sign of any government troops. He said he saw three burned out tanks and an abandoned artillery piece.

Rebels had yesterday said they were firmly in control of the town of Bir al-Ghanam, rejecting a government assertion they had been pushed back.

A small settlement in the desert, Bir al-Ghanam is also the closest point the rebels have come to Muammar Gadafy's stronghold in the capital, lending it a strategic role in their six-month campaign to end his rule.

Rebel commanders in the region said on Saturday they had seized control of Bir al-Ghanam in an offensive in which four of their fighters had died.

Taking the town - which lies on a highway leading north to the Mediterranean coast and on to Tripoli -  breaks weeks of stalemate during which rebels have been unable to make big advances despite Nato air strikes on government forces.

Libyan prime minister Al-Baghdadi Ali Al-Mahmoudi yesterday said that rebels, under Nato air cover, had seized Bir al-Ghanam temporarily but they had been driven out by local volunteers and Libyan forces.

"This is exactly what happened in Bir al-Ghanam, which is back in the hands of the honorable and brave local tribes ... and under the legitimate control of the government of Libya," he told a news conference in Tripoli.

But a local commander rejected that version of events.

"Gadafy is a liar because Bir al-Ghanam is under our control," Col Juma Ibrahim, a rebel commander from the nearby town of Zintan, said.