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The World

March 1, 2011

Pro-Gadhafi forces try to retake strategic city

TRIPOLI, Libya — Government opponents in rebel-held Zawiya repelled an attempt by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi to retake the city closest to the capital in six hours of fighting overnight, witnesses said Tuesday.

The rebels, who include mutinous army forces, are armed with tanks, machine guns and anti-aircraft guns. They fought back pro-Gadhafi troops, armed with the same weapons, who attacked from six directions. There was no word on casualties in Zawiya, 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Tripoli.

A similar attempt was made by pro-Gadhafi forces Monday night to retake the city of Misrata, Libya's third-largest city 125 miles (200 kilometers) east of Tripoli. Rebel forces there repelled the attackers.

"We will not give up Zawiya at any price," said one witness. "We know it is significant strategically. They will fight to get it, but we will not give up. We managed to defeat them because our spirits are high and their spirits are zero."

Gadhafi, Libya's ruler of 41 years, has already lost control of the eastern half of the country since protests demanding his ouster began two weeks ago. He still holds the capital Tripoli and nearby cities.

The witnesses in Zawiya said youths from the city were stationed on the rooftops of high-rise buildings in the city to monitor the movements of the pro-Gadhafi forces and sound the warning if they though an attack was imminent. They also spoke about generous offers of cash by the regime for the rebels to hand control of the city back to authorities.

On Tuesday, Gadhafi's regime sought to show that it was the country's only legitimate authority and that it continued to feel compassion for areas in the east that fell under the control of its opponents.

A total of 18 trucks loaded with rice, wheat-flour, sugar and eggs left Tripoli for Benghazi, the country's second largest city 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) east of the capital. Also in the convoy were two refrigerated cars carrying medical supplies.

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