Libyan rebels ‘take Az-Zawiyah’

The New York Times reports:

After a period of political turmoil, fighters opposing Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi advanced on several fronts on Sunday, seizing ground in the strategic city of Zawiyah that placed them on Tripoli’s doorstep and threatening to cut off an important supply line for the colonel’s loyalists.

The incursion late Saturday into Zawiyah, joined by fighters inside the city, promised to bolster the flagging morale of the rebel movement, which is still reeling from the assassination of a top military leader.

A rebel military spokesman reported that the rebels had also taken control of Surman, farther west along the road to Tunisia; that claim could not immediately be confirmed. Clashes were reported near the Ras Ajdir border crossing with Tunisia, the spokesman said, as well as in Gheryan, a city in the Nafusah Mountains that straddles another important route connecting Tripoli with Sabha, a Qaddafi stronghold in the south.

In the east, the rebels on Sunday continued their assault on Brega, an oil city where they are trying to force a contingent of Qaddafi fighters out of the city’s manufacturing district. Colonel Qaddafi’s soldiers were said to remain in control of important oil facilities in both eastern and western Libya; the rebels, who have said they are afraid to damage such installations, have had a difficult time dislodging opponents from them.

The New York Times also reports:

The Libyan security chief arrived unexpectedly with his family in Cairo on Monday in an apparent high-level defection from the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi as the rebels challenging his rule seized ground in a strategic oil port just 30 miles from his Tripoli stronghold.

Colonel Qaddafi’s interior minister, Nassr al-Mabrouk Abdullah, landed on a private plane in Cairo with nine family members who were traveling on tourist visas and headed for a local hotel, Egyptian security officials at the airport said Monday.

The Qaddafi government’s ambassador, Ali Maria, said in short telephone interview that he had “no information” about Mr. Abdullah’s arrival or defection.

If confirmed, Mr. Abdullah’s defection would signal a new crack in the Qaddafi government after weeks of seeming stability since the defection of Colonel Qaddafi’s righthand man, Musa Kusa, and a handful of others around the time of start of the Libyan uprising and NATO’s bombing campaign in its support. While the Qaddafi government has recently dispatched other senior officials on quiet trips abroad for diplomatic negotiations or other errands, those on official business do not usually travel with their families.

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