Libya rebels push back into oil town Brega

Posted April 04, 2011, at 9:11 p.m.

BREGA, Libya — Rebel fighters pushed back into this hard-fought oil town on Monday, seizing half of Brega and pledging to drive out Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s forces in hours in an advance that would open a vital conduit for oil sales by the opposition.

Control of Brega’s small refinery and Mediterranean port could significantly boost the rebels’ hunt for revenues they can use to purchase heavy weapons for the fight against Gadhafi’s better-equipped troops and militiamen.

Lightly armed and loosely organized opposition forces have surged into and beyond Brega several times in recent weeks from their strongholds in eastern Libya, only to be driven out by Gadhafi loyalists exploiting the rebels’ inability to hold territory. In recent days the opposition has placed the front lines under the control of former military men, creating a more disciplined advance against Gadhafi’s forces.

“We’re more organized now, and that’s played a big role,” said Salam Idrisi, 42, a rebel fighter.

The opposition advanced under artillery fire throughout the day and took the streets of New Brega, a largely residential section separated from the town’s oil facilities by a stretch of highway and a university campus, where the rebels were battling Gadhafi fighters at close range.

“New Brega is under control of our forces and we are mopping up around the university,” said Lt. Muftah Omar Hamza, a former member of Libya’s air force who had a satellite phone and a GPS around his neck.

The rebels also saw success Monday in their efforts to establish an internationally recognized government in eastern Libya, forging tighter links with Britain and Italy, both potentially major markets for Libyan oil.

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