Libya Rebels Say They’ve Captured Most of Strategic Western Town

Libyan insurgents say they have captured most of the western town of Tawarga after breaking through government lines around the nearby city of Misrata.

Two days of battle left five anti-government fighters dead and 46 wounded by noon local time today, said the Mujamma Aledad Hospital in Misrata. The government didn’t release information on casualties among Muammar Qaddafi’s forces, which are accused by the rebels of launching missiles from Tawarga into rebel-held Misrata, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) to the north.

“We control most of the town,” Adel Ibrahim of rebel-controlled Radio Misrata said today. “Qaddafi soldiers are in the old town. There are civilians; they are using them like hostages. Negotiations are going on.”

The capture of Tawarga would represent the first success for rebel units based in Misrata after two months of trying to overcome government forces that surround the city. Rebels say they hope a victory, together with others reported in the Western Mountains, will demonstrate to the opposition’s international backers that they are able to break a stalemate that has lasted more than two months.

Anti-government protests began in February and were met by a crackdown by Qaddafi. A month later, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization began an air campaign aimed at protecting civilians.

The offensive to take Tawarga began early yesterday, when rebel forces equipped with three tanks struck from the east and south, said Commander Abdul Hassan, chief of the rebels’ Al Horia Brigade. Sixty members of Qaddafi’s forces were taken prisoner, he said.

Mobile-phone images taken by rebels showed what appeared to be their units in industrial areas close to Tawarga. One fighter is seen with a bayonet trying to scratch out the town’s name from a large sign. Two black-painted rebel tanks taken from government forces are seen driving toward the town.

“The battle was hard at first,” said rebel fighter Mohammed Elfeturi. “But after that the Qaddafi guys ran away. We captured a lot of their equipment.”

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