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Libya rebels beat back Gaddafi rocket positions

Rebels controlled much of the western Libyan town of Tuarga on Friday an AFP correspondent witnessed, just hours after a large-scale assault designed to stop rocket attacks on nearby Misrata.

Deep inside the sprawling desert town rebels searched door-to-door for snipers and other remnants of Muammar Gaddafi’s forces, after clearing residential areas in the north and the centre, in an attack that began early Thursday.

In a symbolic show of victory fighters tore down green flags that were hoisted atop of buildings by Gaddafi supporters who just hours earlier had occupied the area.

“Gaddafi is finished!” shouted a jubilant 31-year-old fighter named Mohammed. “There is no way back. We have taken Tuarga!”

But his claim was somewhat premature.

As the the rebels pressed to the extreme south and east of the town they encountered heavy fighting and sizeable pockets of resistance among a maze of buildings and date palms.

Rebel commanders said there were still some snipers inside the town and bombardments were now coming from a village further south.

At a residential area east of the main road there was a near constant series of thundering explosions shortly after midday.

Shunning any complex close-quarters urban warfare, the two sides exchanged artillery fire that left at least one rebel dead and eight badly injured.

One Gaddafi shell crashed into a building from which rebel forces had been launching their own barrage. The resulting blaze gutted a number of apartments.

It was unclear if there were any casualties in the strike, but the town’s residents appeared to have fled in a hurry hours before.

In neighbouring flats, clothes hung drying in the wind and many apartments were abandoned with the beds left semi-made and possessions left where they stood. Half a dozen similar plumes of thick black smoke towered over the desert town.

Even in the absence of Tuarga’s residents there were signs of the resentment that has built over months.

Some rebels helped themselves to soft drinks at a ransacked local shop. “They stole all this from Misrata,” said one angry fighter.

The two towns have sat on opposite sides of Libya’s civil war since the early days of the revolution.

After months of bombardment, the citizens of Misrata blame Tuarga’s residents for many of the attacks on their hometown.

Further south along the main road, truck after truck of rebel fighters pressed forward to new positions, as heavy calibre fire whizzed and cracked over head.

Some shots fell perilously close, forcing the rebels to swerve for cover as clods of earth and sprays of sand were sent hurtling through the air just metres (yards) from the road. But the fighters pressed on in what they said were a battle for the survival of their families.

Most had come from the besieged city of Misrata, attacking Tuarga early on Thursday in an effort to end the barrage of missiles that had hit the Misrata area almost daily.

Further back toward the port city the rebels mindful of overly quick advances in the past were working to consolidate their gains.

Dozens of shipping containers were being filled with sand and transported to the front to act as ready-to-use trenches. -AFP