Libyan rebels reported heavy fighting with the forces of Muammar Gaddafi on the Mediterranean coast road as both sides tried to break a stalemate in the seven-week war.
Mohamed el-Masrafy, a member of a rebel special forces unit, said clashes began at 6 a.m. (0400 GMT) after Gaddafi’s forces were resupplied with ammunition and moved eastwards out of the oil port of Brega.
He told Reuters after returning to the eastern town of Ajdabiyah there was heavy fighting with machineguns and other weapons, Reuters reports.
“The rebel army is about 60 kms from here,” he said. That would put them about 20 kms from Brega, the focus of a week-long see-saw battle. Gaddafi’s forces mounted a sustained assault on Tuesday that pushed the rebels about half way back to Ajdabiyah, gateway to their stronghold of Benghazi.
As rebels in pick-ups piled with weapons headed west from Ajdabiyah and civilians fleeing the fighting passed them in the opposite direction, anger mounted over alleged lack of air strikes by NATO.
Hossam Ahmed, a defector from Gaddafi’s army, said the frontline was 40-60 km west of Adjabiyah, saying Tuesday’s retreat “wasn’t a full withdrawal, it’s back and forth.”
Like other rebels at Ajdabiyah’s western gate, Ahmed expressed frustration at the lack of NATO action. “There have been no air strikes. We hear the sound but they don’t bomb anything,” he said.
“WHAT HAS NATO DONE?”
Another rebel, Khaled al-Obeidi said: “What has NATO done, what has NATO bombed?”
“What is NATO waiting for? We have cities that are being destroyed. Ras Lanuf, Ben Jawad, Brega, and Gaddafi is destroying Misrata completely,” said Said Emburak, 43, a resident of Ajdabiyah.
Rebel army leader Abdel Fattah Younes has accused NATO of being too slow to order airstrikes, saying Gaddafi’s forces have been allowed to slaughter civilians in the besieged and isolated western city of Misrata.
NATO denies the pace of air strikes has abated since it took over from a coalition led by the United States, Britain and France on March 31.
Journalists were banned on Wednesday from heading west from Ajdabiyah, making it difficult to assess the fighting.
“Can you go with Gaddafi’s militias and do interviews with them and photograph the tanks? Well now you can’t with us either,” said al-Obeidi.
The conflict in the east has reached stalemate with Western air power preventing Gaddafi landing a knockout blow and the rebels’ rag-tag army unable to push closer towards Tripoli.