With coalition bombing all day on Ajdabiyah in support of Libyan loyalist positions, the rebels say they have taken the city’s eastern gate and are looking to move back in.
Recapturing the crossroads to Benghazi is vital if the rising against Colonel Gaddafi is to push on to the capital. The rebels, reinforced and better equipped since they were expelled last week, say they now surround the city and an attack is imminent.
Rebel spokesman Mustafa Gheriani said that after the city was recaptured by Gaddafi’s forces they fear “a great crime may have been committed” in Ajdabiyah, and that civilian casualties may be heavy.
That is one of the things the air bombardment is seeking to prevent in what NATO has said could be a 90-day campaign. However air power failed to prevent government tanks re-entering Misrata in the west.
Euronews’ correspondent in eastern Libya Mustafa Bag saw little evidence of any heavy weaponry as the rebels tightened their siege of Ajdabiyah.
While a truck-launched rocket had been used to take the city’s eastern gate, Mustafa saw mostly Kalashnikovs, RPGs and a few anti-aircraft guns.
They had not been used to knock out the tanks he came across, burned out by the side of the road, but what he did see was enthusiasm and determination.
He reported: “I’m on the frontline of the clashes between Gaddafi forces and opposition forces. One side is under opposition control, and the other is under the control of Gaddafi forces.
“They have also taken control of Ajdabiya city centre. The rebels are praying and say they are ready to march into the city and start a big assault. They say they will capture the city in 24 hours.”
Their weapons are no match for the forces arrayed against them. Senior commanders have joined them on the frontline as Benghazi starts to co-ordinate command but it may be a challenge to fuse these former civilians and Gaddafi soldiers into an effective force.
“Our weapons are on the ground and can’t knock down enemy planes. We’ve heard explosions from over the hill between us and Ajdabiyah,” said one fighter.
“We need support from outside. I believe in Allah. We need guns, because they have tanks and we don’t have tanks. But even with their tanks we will take them down,” said a 24-year old engineering student.
He is typical of the many young people who are prepared to take on Gaddafi’s elite forces. Disorganised, and with few soldiering skills, they are defying the world’s longest-ruling dictator still in power.