- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2011

MISRATA, LIBYA | Moammar Gadhafi’s forces pounded rebels near their port city redoubt in western Libya on Sunday.

But opposition fighters fought their way back into another Mediterranean city near the Tunisian border, a surprising resurgence in their nearly four-month battle oust the North African strongman.

Anti-Gadhafi sentiment also was building in the once-quiescent southern city of Sabha, where young men and members of a big anti-government tribe were protesting in the streets and readying their weapons - some brought in from rebel forces in the north - to join the fight.

The lightly populated south of the country was long believed solidly behind Col. Gadhafi. Large numbers of the population in Sabha, for example, were originally from Chad, Niger and Sudan and brought to Libya by Col. Gadhafi in the 1980s. They were given government stipends and jobs in return for mercenary support of his regime.

Many of those men now have gone north to fight with government forces, leaving behind heavily armed and restive young men who are native to the region and the anti-Gadhafi Awlad Suleiman tribe, the largest in the city and a force throughout the country.

Near Misrata, the major rebel stronghold 125 miles east of Tripoli, forces under the command of Col. Gadhafi’s sons Khamis and al-Moatassem and top aide Abdullah al-Senoussi have killed nearly 40 rebel fighters in intense shelling over the past three days.

Government forces have the city surrounded on all sides but the north, where the residents and rebels have access to the Mediterranean Sea for supplies and food through Libya’s major port. Rebels have beaten back several government attempts to retake the city.

Gadhafi forces are fighting hard to keep rebels bottled up in the city and to prevent a breakout toward Tripoli. Government troops are using tanks, artillery and incendiary rockets against rebel forces massed in Dafniya, about 18 miles west of Misrata.

In the far west of the country near the border with Tunisia, the uprising to end Col. Gadhafi’s 40-year rule appeared to be gaining momentum, with rebels advancing in heavy street-by-street fighting in Zawiya.

Reports from an AP reporter passing through the city late Saturday said the government had been forced to close the important coastal road from Tripoli to the Tunisian border because of fighting. The highway is Col. Gadhafi’s one remaining supply route.

In a surprising show of resilience, rebels have regrouped and moved deeply into the city, just 18 miles west of the capital. They took the city in March but were driven out two weeks later.

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