Libyan rebels launched a promised assault on a key gateway to Tripoli early yesterday, attacking government positions just 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the capital, an AFP correspondent reported.
Buoyed by controversial French arms drops and intensified North Atlantic Treaty Organisation-led air strikes on the regime’s frontline armour, the rebels launched an assault on the Gualich area, in the plains north of their enclave in the Nafusa Mountains southwest of Tripoli.
Shelling by forces loyal to Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi killed 11 people and wounded dozens more -- the majority civilians -- around the besieged rebel enclave of Misrata, insurgents said. “11 people were killed and 57 wounded, almost all of them civilians,” a rebel source told AFP by telephone from Misrata, 200 kilometres (120 miles) east of Tripoli.
The attacks marked another bloody milestone for a city that has been shelled almost continuously since March. While rebel forces and NATO bombing have cleared Gaddafi troops from Misrata, the allies have failed to push loyalist forces beyond striking distance of the city.
As projectiles rained down from the air, on the ground skirmishes continued. Sources said five rebels were killed in fighting at the western entrance to the city earlier in the day.
Across the Gulf of Sirte, on the eastern front line, a rebel representative said nine Gaddafi soldiers were captured between Ajdabiya and Brega.
Yet despite the activity there was little sign of an anti-Gaddafi offensive toward Tripoli, which a rebel colonel had predicted would come by Monday.
French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet cautioned against the rebels’ chances of defeating Gaddafi and pushing toward the capital.
They have a “growing capacity to organise politically and militarily” but are “currently not in a stabilised, centralised system,” he said.
But, he added, the rebels were no longer in need of controversial French weapons drops.
“There is emerging a political order distinct from that of Tripoli,” Longuet said. “The (rebel) territories are organising their autonomy... That is why the parachute drops are no longer necessary.”