Rebels and forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi exchanged ferocious barrages of antiaircraft and machine-gun fire Sunday as NATO warplanes pounded government-held areas on the edge of the rebel-controlled Nafusa Mountain range, ending a relative lull in combat in western Libya.
Fighting also erupted near the mountain town of Bir Ghanam on the southern edge of Zawiya province, whose main city of the same name was briefly under rebel control.
The latest round of clashes began after Kadafi’s forces fired Russian-made Grad rockets at rebel positions in key highland areas. At least one rebel was killed and two injured, but the insurgents held their ground, said one of their commanders, who requested anonymity because he has family in Tripoli, the capital and Kadafi’s stronghold.
Rebels in the Nafusa Mountains, a 90-mile range near the Tunisian border with sparsely populated villages and towns, rose up against Kadafi’s four-decade rule in February, taking up arms when confronted with his military force.
In recent weeks, rebel committees governing mountain towns and villages in the area have begun to coordinate more closely with one another and with their allies in the eastern city of Benghazi, where the leaders of the nationwide rebellion have set up their capital.
NATO jets circled overhead for hours Sunday as rebels armed with assault rifles in Kikla, a front-line mountain town captured by insurgents a month ago, faced off against Kadafi’s forces. In the afternoon, planes began striking the nearby town of Qawalish, where rebels say Libyan forces store arms. The fighting continued into the night with ground-shaking thuds. Tracer fire from government antiaircraft weapons could be seen in the distance.
Libya’s official news agency reported the attacks on Qawalish, quoting sources saying “that this aggressive bombardment had caused the martyrdom and injury of a number of people and the destruction of some vehicles.”
State-controlled media also reported NATO bombing strikes Saturday night in the Khalat Furjan district of Tripoli.