Potential Breakthrough In Fighting As Libyan Rebels Claim Control Of Misurata Airport
Libyan rebels say they seized control of the airport in Misurata on Wednesday, in a potentially significant turn of events for the opposition movement.
The western port city of Misurata, an important rebel stronghold over the course of the Libyan conflict, has also been the scene of unrelenting fighting as forces loyal to Libyan leader Colonel Muammar el-Gaddafi have continually pummeled the city both on land and from the air. The “ferocity” of the combat in Misurata, as CNN aptly noted, “symbolizes the animosity between the pro- and anti-Gadhafi forces.”
As MSNBC reports:
Even though some of the combat reports are difficult to confirm, they seem to represent a major boost for the rebels prospects’ after weeks of stalemate in their effort to end Gadhafi’s 42-year rule over Libya.
According to a rebel who identified himself as Abdel Salam, rebels were in total control of the airport in Misrata’s southern outskirts after two days of fighting. He said five rebels were killed and 105 injured.
“This is a major victory,” he said. “The Gadhafi forces have been suffering lack of supplies … Their morale was very low after being defeated several times and pushed back.”
Misrata rebels are also pushing west, toward the nearby city of Zlitan, and then advance farther in the direction of the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
“The main goal is to topple down the tyrant and to liberate the capital,” Abdel Salam said. “Now Misrata is free … Gadhafi can’t get in here.”
Rebels also reported a smattering of other victories Wednesday, but control of Misurata airport is not only symbolically important, it also means rebels and residents will have renewed access to humanitarian aid.
Aid has been severely curtailed over the past two months as government forces have continually pounded the port with shells and more recently scattered both the water and the port area with mines, preventing most aid ships from docking. As a top U.N. official told the U.N. Security Council this week, Misurata has been “at the forefront” of U.N. humanitarian concerns.
As the BBC‘s Andrew Harding offered in his analysis of the situation,
The broader question is whether the rebels can now hold onto both the airport, and a larger swathe of territory recently captured on the western side of the city. The next few days should offer some insights into the resilience of pro-Gadaffi forces in the area, and their determination to recapture the only fully “liberated” chunk of western Libya.
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Libya uprising map by Rafy courtesy of Wikimedia Commons