Libya rebels push forward as Russia speaks of 'dead end'
Libyan rebels said on Tuesday they had punched through to the centre of the western town of Zliten, sparking fierce clashes with forces loyal to Moamer Kadhafi, as Russia said the conflict had reached a dead end.
"The rebels advanced today inside Zliten to control the centre. Now there is a vicious fight with Kadhafi's forces," said Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani, a military spokesman based in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
The fight for Zliten -- which lies just 120 kilometres (75 miles) east of the capital Tripoli -- began shortly after sunrise and was still raging by late afternoon.
A rebel spokesman in Misrata said eight fighters had been killed and 30 had been wounded.
The spokesman, who asked not to be named, added that the rebels had killed "many" Kadhafi fighters and had captured more -- including an undefined number of Chadian mercenaries.
In recent weeks Libya's rebels have been slowly advancing on Zliten from their enclave at Misrata, 70 kilometres to the east.
They have been aided by NATO air strikes, which on Monday hit one Kadhafi's command and control centre and one military facility in the town.
Zliten has long been held by Kadhafi, and was suspected of being a base for multiple rocket attacks on Misrata that have killed scores of civilians.
In the east, Bani said rebels fought for hours with Kadhafi forces at the oil hub of Brega, with a small unit of 45 troops entering the town's eastern residential district.
"There were clashes with Kadhafi's forces and it went on four hours and then they had to retreat back," Bani said.
On Monday, rebels said they arrested dozens of loyalist militiamen in Benghazi and suffered a blow in western Libya, losing a village at the foot of a key mountain range.
At least 63 people were rounded up in an ongoing bid to tighten security in Benghazi, following an hours-long battle with Kadhafi loyalists in the opposition stronghold.
But in western Libya, Kadhafi forces wrested back control of the village of Josh at the foot of the strategic Nafusa mountains and captured on Monday, AFP journalists at the scene said.
The Nafusa region has seen heavy fighting since the insurgents launched a major offensive this month in a drive on the capital Tripoli.
In Moscow, meanwhile, a senior Russian official said fighting in Libya had reached a "dead end" that could only be resolved through dialogue and new attempts at negotiation.
"The situation has reached a dead end that confirms that there is no military solution," the head of the foreign ministry's Middle East and North Africa department, Sergei Vershinin, was quoted by Interax as saying.
"We have to go back to searching for political and diplomatic solutions," he was quoted as saying.
Russia abstained from a vote on a UN Security Council resolution in March that opened the way for air strikes on Kadhafi regime targets in Libya but has since criticized the scale and intent of the NATO-led Western campaign.
It has been involved in attempts to mediate between the rebels controlling the east of the country and the Kadhafi's regime in Tripoli.
Kadhafi, meanwhile, has sent an envoy to Caracas carrying a letter for his ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the Latin American leader said on Monday, without revealing the contents.
"The envoy brought a letter for me. That is good, the world needs to know about this," said Chavez, who has consistently denounced NATO strikes in Libya as a Western oil grab.
Chavez called the rebels "terrorists" and called on other countries to cut ties with the rebel National Transitional Council.
"Not only do we refuse to recognize the pantomime that is the Transitional Council... We say that European and other countries have recognised a group of terrorists... and given them legitimacy," he said.
He went on to say that such recognition "destroys the foundation of international law" because it would pave the way for the elevation of other opposition groups.
"It's very dangerous, and it could happen to all kinds of presidents. Tomorrow it could be any of us... This cannot be tolerated."
On July 15 Western and regional powers designated the Benghazi-based NTC as the country's legitimate rulers, a move that gives them access to vital funds.
The United States, which in June declared the NTC "the legitimate interlocutor" of the Libyan people, said Venezuela should join the international community in pressing Kadhafi to step down.
"I would hope (Chavez) urged Kadhafi to step down and allow a democratic transition to take place," US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in Washington.
© 2011 AFP