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Libyan Rebels Claim Control of Western Town

A frontline rebel position overlooks the town of Bir al-Ghanam in western Libya, August 5, 2011

A frontline rebel position overlooks the town of Bir al-Ghanam in western Libya, August 5, 2011

Libyan rebels say they have gained control of the strategic southwestern town of Bir al-Ghanam, following fierce clashes with pro-government forces.

Opposition fighters said Saturday that they had managed to push back forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi following a battle that left at least four rebel fighters dead.

There was no immediate word from the Libyan government concerning the town's status.

Bir al-Ghanam is about 85 kilometers from Tripoli. For months, rebel fighters have been trying to move closer to the capital by seizing towns to the west.

Meanwhile, fighting is underway in Zlitan as rebels continue their efforts to wrestle control of the western town from pro-government forces.

The al-Jazeera news channel said that opposition fighters repelled an offensive by pro-government forces on Saturday after an intense battle involving rockets and small arms.

Separately, the Libyan government said Saturday that a NATO airstrike on the port in Zlitan had caused damage.

In a separate development, Italy demanded NATO investigate whether an alliance warship ignored a distress call from a boat full of refugees trying to flee Libya.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Friday Italy was also asking NATO to consider changing its mission to mandate alliance forces in the region rescue and protect migrants fleeing the conflict by sea.

Italian ships Thursday rescued around 370 refugees from a boat drifting near the Italian Mediterranean island of Lampedusa. Relief organizations say the migrants told of dozens of people who died of dehydration and exhaustion during the six days the rickety boat was on the water.

Reports in Italy say a NATO warship 50 kilometers away was informed of the situation earlier this week, but refused to come to the migrants aid.

But NATO says it only learned of the ship in distress on Thursday, from Italy.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.