Gaddafi forces pull out of Zawiyah-rebel spokesman

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:12 PM
Gaddafi forces pull out of Zawiyah-rebel spokesman

By Maria Golovnina

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi withdrew from the center of the western town of Zawiyah Saturday after a fierce battle with rebels, a rebel spokesman said.

"They entered Zawiyah at six in the morning with heavy forces, hundreds of soldiers with tanks. Our people fought back ...We have won for now and civilians are gathering in the square," Youssef Shagan told Reuters.

Shagan said earlier Gaddafi forces had fired high explosive rounds in the center of the town, 50 km (30 miles) west of the capital Tripoli, and rebel forces had captured two tanks.

"We see many people, many residents fleeing. There is heavy fighting right now," Youssef Shagan said by telephone.

Rebel forces still controlled pockets of the city and captured two tanks from the army in a shootout Saturday morning, he said.

"They (Gaddafi's security forces) are attacking people, civilians. There is a lot of shooting. They are taking people from their homes. People are escaping to nearby villages."

He said many people had been killed, but was unable to give a total. Gaddafi's forces had used high explosive rounds, he said without specifying.

Earlier, Shagan said the military had driven tanks and heavy weapons into the center of the town, where people opposed to Gaddafi's 41-year rule have been fighting his forces for more than a week, and closed all the roads.

Arabic satellite channels said pro-Gaddafi forces had fired from tanks at residential areas "Now with all the artillery, tanks and armored vehicles, we're seeing battles and killings we haven't seen in Iraq. I consider it total genocide," said one witness who spoke to Al Arabiya television.

The man said more than 15 armored vehicles and a tank had entered the town. Mosques have announced 'jihad' (struggle) against them, the man told Al Arabiya.

The channel cited witnesses saying several members of Gaddafi's forces had surrendered and said the rebels had blocked an attack by people they said were pro-Gaddafi mercenaries.

One witness told al-Arabiyah he saw the corpses of members of the security forces killed in a battle in the central square.

"My own eyes saw the bodies of seven dead who have been brought in from the square and four others have been imprisoned. The brigades were struck with terror and a sense of total failure and abandoned their equipment. The youth have flooded to Martyrs' square to celebrate this true victory."

Al Jazeera carried similar reports about fighting in Zawiyah and said tanks had fired on homes.

It later cited witnesses saying tanks were pulling out from the center of the town but did not make clear how far they had gone.

"We have brought down two tanks and now a third, after which they scrammed like mice," Ahmed Selim, a political activist, told the channel, referring to Gaddafi's forces.

(Additional reporting by Shaimaa Fayed; writing by Edmund Blair and Philippa Fletcher)