By Elizabeth Arrott
Forces for and against the Libyan government continue to battle for al-Zawiya, 50 kilometers west of the capital Tripoli. In the opposition-held east, rebel forces claimed control of the oil town Ras Lanuf, and vowed to continue their march along the coast toward the capital.
Officials loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi dismiss evidence that Ras Lanuf is in rebel hands. But the opposition and witnesses say rebels have pushed beyond the town, more than halfway between rebel headquarters in Benghazi and the city of Sirte, and are now eying that Gadhafi stronghold.
Mustafa Gheraini is the media organizer at the Benghazi courthouse, the symbolic center of the rebellion.
“They have taken Ras Lanuf and moved on,” said Gheraini. “The government is not in control of Tripoli. Control is really a funny word. Are you successfully managing to keep people at home and have a checkpoint at the end of each block, okay, and terrorizing people? Then yes he is in control. Does he have the people of Tripoli with him? Then the answer is no.”
But Gadhafi loyalists put on a show of support in the capital’s Green Square the day before, a seemingly less forced affair than previous rallies, even as pockets of resistance in Tripoli continue to rise up.
And there is a question, as yet unanswered, about the westward march of the opposition: why has Colonel Gadhafi, not known for his restraint, held back the full might of his remaining battle force? Small, hastily formed rebel groups take over town after town, as government forces retreat. Speculation is rampant that more bitter battles lie ahead, and serves to dampen some of the rebels’ euphoria.
In Benghazi, the opposition National Council held its first formal meeting Saturday. As the makeshift group tries to consolidate control of governance in the east, it is also expected to renew the call for limited international military help against Colonel Gadhafi.
“As a Libyan, we are united not to have any foot soldiers on our land,” added Gheraini. “However, we welcome a no-fly zone. We welcome precision, strategic bombings of his strongholds. This guy has already had defections within his own groups and I think something like that would speed up the process and just lessens the bloodshed that may take place.”
Outside the courthouse, crowds gathered to mourn those killed in an explosion at a rebel-held munitions camp on the outskirts of Benghazi Friday.
As coffins were carried aloft and placed before the building, mourners chanted defiantly.
The cause of the blast remains unclear. Gheraini says evidence suggests it was “sabotage” by pro-Gadhafi forces, but would not rule out that it was an accident.
To the men who wept openly, it did not seem to matter; those killed were martyrs and, the mourners said, would be blessed by God.