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A rebel advance westwards towards Tripoli, which was halted Monday by Moamer Gathafi's troops about 140

A key milestone

Nine powerful explosions shake Gathafi's home town as rebels seize Bin Jawad after retaking Ras Lanuf.


By Michel Moutot - RAS AL AWAJA, Libya

kilometres (85 miles) east of the strongman's hometown Sirte, resumed later in the day, a reporter said.

After their rapid progress on Sunday, helped by the overnight coalition air raids, Monday proved something of a sticking point and by mid-afternoon they had pushed forward just 40 kilometres from Bin Jawad to the small town of Ras Al Awaja, on the road to Sirte, the Libyan strongman's home town.

The rebels on Sunday seized Bin Jawad after retaking the key oil town of Ras Lanuf as they advanced with the support of coalition air strikes on Gathafi's forces.

But on Monday they came under heavy machine-gun fire from regime loyalists in pick-up trucks on the road from Bin Jawad to Nofilia.

The insurgents pulled back into Bin Jawad and opened up with heavy artillery.

A salvo of shells from Gathafi's forces slammed into sand dunes near Bin Jawad and a rebel fighter fell, hit in the leg.

Pick-ups flying the green flag of Tripoli and mounted with heavy machine guns opened up on the rebels who replied with "Stalin organ" multiple rocket launchers and cannon fire.

A 10-minute incoming artillery barrage panicked the thousand or so rebels along the road outside Bin Jawad, sending them fleeing in disorder.

Had Gathafi's guns hit the road proper, there would have been a massacre among the insurgents, some of whom were armed with only shotguns.

"It won't be as easy as we thought to take Sirte and then march on Tripoli," said 20-year-old rebel fighter Ahmad al-Badri, wearing incomplete battledress and clutching an old Kalashnikov.

Instead of a flak jacket, he wore a highly visible orange life jacket.

"But we won't stop -- we'll advance. They can't hold us up for long," Badri added.

All of the rebels who spoke to AFP said seemed confident that coalition warplanes would reopen the road to Sirte for them, but none had heard of NATO's decision to strike only when civilians were threatened by Gathafi's army.

But the advance continued cautiously later in the day as they searched houses along the road and appeared to encounter increasingly less resistance from the pro-Gathafi forces.



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