(Updates with Tripoli toll in fifth paragraph, oil minister in Tunisia in sixth, control of Zawiya in seventh.)
Aug. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Libyan rebels say they are advancing toward Tripoli after overcoming a force commanded by Muammar Qaddafi’s son Khamis to capture the western town of Zlitan.
Rebel units from the besieged city of Misrata attacked Zlitan under an artillery barrage, linking up with other opposition fighters inside the town, according to a statement late yesterday from their military council in Misrata. The rebels also approached Wadi Kam, a valley 140 kilometers (85 miles) west of Tripoli, the capital, it said. The fighting left at least 31 rebels dead and 137 wounded, medics in Misrata said.
“Rebels are now controlling Zlitan, and they are located near Wadi Kam,” said the council spokesman, Munir Mohammed. There was no independent confirmation of the reports of the rebel operation in the valley or in Zlitan, also about 140 kilometers from the capital.
The advance, if confirmed, adds pressure on Qaddafi after the rebels said they have taken Zawiya, west of the capital, and Ghariyan to the south. The claims of progress in the rebels’ attempt to isolate Tripoli come after weeks of stalemate in the sixth month of the conflict. Qaddafi, who seized power in the oil-rich North African nation in a 1969 coup, controls the capital and has told his followers to keep fighting the rebels and to resist the North Atlantic Treaty Organization airstrikes.
The NATO airstrikes on Tripoli killed 27 civilians, the state-run JANA news agency said today, citing the government spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim.
With the rebels advancing toward the capital, Libyan Oil Minister Omran Abu Kraa headed to Tunisia rather than returning to his country after a trip to Italy, the state-run Tunisian news agency TAP said. Shokri Ghanem, Libya’s former top oil official, defected to join the rebels, according to a June 1 statement from the rebel Transitional National Council.
The rebels announced late yesterday that they had control of the oil refinery at Zawiya, had shut its supply to Tripoli and almost encircled the outskirts of the capital. Rebels took the main square in the city, Associated Press reported today. Qaddafi’s forces remain in the eastern part of the city, the news service said.
Libya’s biggest refinery, at Ras Lanuf, which can produce 220,000 barrels a day, has stopped operating because of the fighting. Zawiya’s refinery, which supplies fuel to government forces, has a capacity of 120,000 barrels of oil a day, almost a third of Libya’s total.
Strikes on Headquarters
U.K. warplanes hit the intelligence and police headquarters in central Tripoli yesterday as part of the NATO campaign, the Royal Air Force said today in an e-mailed statement.
In a separate attack, British aircraft struck a compound in the Abu Salim district that is thought to house the main operations room of the Ministry of Interior’s security forces, according to the statement.
The International Organization of Migration is working to evacuate foreigners, many of them Egyptians, who want to leave Tripoli and appealed for funds to carry out the operation, according to a statement yesterday from the Geneva-based agency. The agency has been using ships to evacuate migrants, most of them North African, from Misrata, it said.
“A rapid response on this is critical to ensuring that in the small window of opportunity we have to get people out of Tripoli, we are not constrained by funding issues,” Pasquale Lupoli, the IOM’s Cairo-based regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in the statement.
Inside Zlitan, fighters battled soldiers who had holed up inside houses, said the rebel military council, which claimed to have captured Zlitan’s internal security chief, Ali Bin Saleem. The council said Qaddafi’s forces fought back using tanks.
“It’s bad; it’s too much,” said Misrata’s health director, Khalid Abu Falgha, as his hospital’s entrance hall filled with wounded fighters. “How you can cope with these casualties? The hospital is full.”
Outside the hospital gates, hundreds of Misratans arrived to donate blood or search for news on the dead and missing.
Misrata radio stations broadcast statements throughout the day urging Zlitan’s civilians to remain indoors, saying “stay in your homes; you will not be harmed.”
Rebel fighters rescued civilians who had been trapped by the fighting, according to the council.
“A number of families from Misrata caught in Zlitan, and who have not been able to leave, have been freed,” the council said. “We are trying to return them to Misrata.”
--With assistance from Jihen Laghmari in Tunis, Zaid Sabah in Washington, Caroline Alexander and Mike Harrison in London. Editors: Heather Langan, Jim Rubin, Claudia Maedler, Mike Harrison
To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Stephen in Misrata through the Dubai newsroom at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com.