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Libyan rebels launch assault close to Tripoli

By the CNN Wire Staff
Libyan rebel fighters flash the victory sign as they drive to the frontline on June 11.
Libyan rebel fighters flash the victory sign as they drive to the frontline on June 11.
  • NEW: NATO warplanes targeted military refueling equipment near Brega
  • 14 rebels die in Misrata fighting
  • Rebels capture Al-Qawalish, according to a rebel fighter
  • The town is about 30 miles southwest of Tripoli

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- Rebels marched toward Tripoli Wednesday, capturing a town southwest of the capital from Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces, a rebel fighter told CNN.

Fighting also engulfed Misrata, east of Tripoli, where 14 rebels were killed and 42 others wounded, according to Mohamed Ibrahim, a rebel spokesman in the city. Three civilians also died in rocket attacks launched by Gadhafi's men, Ibrahim said.

CNN could not verify the information.

Just west of Misrata, in Dafniya, 14 rebel fighters were killed and 42 were wounded Wednesday during a firefight with Gadhafi forces, said Ibrahim.

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  • Libya
  • Libyan Politics
  • Moammar Gadhafi
  • NATO

The rebels ran over Al-Qawalish, a town of about 4,000 residents 50 kilometers (31 miles) southwest of Tripoli, a stronghold for Gadhafi since the start of the uprising in February.

Their attacks got under way around 7 a.m. from the north, the west and the south. On the western front, journalist David Adams said rebels were using Grad launchers, two Russian tanks and a number of other vehicles, rockets and guns.

The rebels captured the town around 2:30 p.m., entering from all three fronts, some having captured vehicles belonging to Gadhafi forces. Some rebel fighters could be seen breaking windows, shooting doors of houses and rummaging through families' belongings. Some said they were looking for weapons, but they appeared to be looting.

After they had lost control of the town, Gadhafi forces began shelling its periphery with Grad rockets. At least 12 government soldiers died, six were wounded and seven were captured, said Adams.

Rebels, whose casualties included at least seven dead and 15 wounded, said their next target would be Al Assabiah, said Adams.

Hassan Al-Jiwali, a rebel fighter from the Nafusa Mountains, said 50 of Gadhafi's men were killed and 15 were captured in the offensive.

Fighting has erupted in the western mountains in recent weeks as more than four months of battles have failed to yield a decisive victory for either side.

The first United Nations joint mission to reach the devastated mountain region found many people in dire need of food. A World Food Programme statement said markets were not functioning due to limited fuel and cash, and basic services such as electricity and water were lacking in some areas.

The rebels said they were moving northward, closer to the capital on the Mediterranean Sea. They intended to march to the city of Garyan, which sits on the main highway to Tripoli.

Also Wednesday, NATO said its air forces targeted military re-fueling equipment in the Brega area southwest of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

"These precision strikes will limit the ability of pro-Gadhafi forces to threaten Libyan civilians and significantly degrade logistical support for Gadhafi's campaign in eastern Libya," said Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, commander of Operation Unified Protector, in a news release.

France has acknowledged arming the rebels, saying the weapons were for self-defense. However, French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said Tuesday the weapons were no longer necessary because the rebels were becoming "more autonomous."

But debate continued over France's decisions.

In a contentious closed-door U.N. Security Council meeting Tuesday, Russia argued that, by sending weapons, France had violated the council's resolution that authorized the use of NATO force in Libya.

CNN's Kareem Khadder and Kathryn Tancos contributed to this report.

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