Tanks said closing in on rebel-held Zawiyah square

Reuters News
|
Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:50 PM
Tanks said closing in on rebel-held Zawiyah square

By Mariam Karouny

RAS JDIR, Tunisia (Reuters) - The tanks of pro-Gaddafi forces were closing in on the rebel-held main square of Zawiyah on Wednesday and their snipers were shooting at anything that moved, rebels and residents said.

Bodies were lying unrecovered in the ruins of many buildings destroyed in air raids earlier in the week. There was no one in the streets of the center of the city of 200,000 and it was not possible to verify the reports independently.

"We can see the tanks. The tanks are everywhere," the rebel fighter told Reuters by phone from inside Zawiyah, which lies 50 km (30 miles) west of the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

The fighter, named Ibrahim, said forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi were in control of the main road and the suburbs of Zawiyah, which in the past three days has become the focal point of a civil war on two fronts to oust the 41-year-old Gaddafi regime.

Rebel forces still controlled Zawiyah square, and the enemy was about 1,500 metres (yards) away, Ibrahim said.

There were army snipers on top of most of the buildings, shooting whomever dared to leave their homes. Half of he city was destroyed by air attacks, including a mosque.

Zawiyah was, briefly, described as a rebel stronghold in the uprising which erupted against Gaddafi last month. But it may now be on the verge of changing hands.

"The situation is not so good," said a resident reporting by telephone. Civilians are pinned down in their houses, unable to flee from the mounting violence.

"No one can move outside their homes because they there are snipers everywhere," he added.

"MANY DEAD"

Ibrahim said Gaddafi forces "have surrounded the square with snipers and tanks" but rebels were holding on to the central square area.

"It's very scary. There are a lot of snipers," he said.

But he said rebel forces still held the central square area.

"There are many dead people and they can't even bury them. Zawiyah is deserted. There's nobody on the streets. No animals, not even birds in the sky," he said.

He said rebels had killed a high-ranking cousin of Gaddafi in fighting earlier in the week, and "that's why he bombed the city. They wanted to retrieve the body and they did."

He said about 60 rebel fighters had gone out from the city to attack an army base on Tuesday about 20 km (12 miles) from Zawiyah.

"None of them has returned and we don't know if they're dead or alive. We haven't heard from them," he said.

(Additional reporting by Maria Golovnina; writing by Douglas Hamilton; Editing by Giles Elgood)