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March 13, 2011

Libyan Opposition Claims Gain Amid Military Onslaught

There is conflicting information coming out of Libya about who holds which areas along the desert frontline outside rebel-held Benghazi, as the opposition continues to urge the international community to move quicker on aiding its cause.

The opposition says its fighters have retaken the town of Brega, southwest of Benghazi, despite claims by Moammar Gadhafi's government that its forces hold the town and are advancing toward the rebels' eastern stronghold.

On Sunday,  the opposition announced a change in leadership in its military structure, putting Major Abdel Fiteh Younis in command of the rebel armed forces. Younis is the former head of Colonel Gadhafi’s special forces units. He reportedly has about 2,500 trained soldiers who defected with him in the early days of the uprising.

The announcement of his command coincides with what appears to be a tactical success in Brega, where opposition leaders say a trap ensnared government troops. If true, this indication of thoughtful planning would be a change from earlier in the uprising, when the rebels showed more enthusiasm than skill.

According to the opposition, the government soldiers captured in Brega are being well-treated in a Benghazi prison. Reporters' requests to see the prisoners were denied.

While the situation on the ground is confused and hard to confirm, rebel leaders are still calling on the international community to impose a no-fly zone so that they can regain the momentum and push towards Tripoli, hoping to overthrow the country's longtime leader.

With U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton holding talks in Paris about Libya before heading to Cairo, Libyan opposition spokesman Mustafa Gheriani says the message being given to Clinton in her meeting with an opposition delegation is clear.

"The message carried to Hillary Clinton is basically, please move-on on the no-fly zone, move-on on strategic bombing. Let’s end this before any blood is shed," Gheriani said.

In Monday's fighting, there are reports of some government bombs dropped on the opposition-held city of Ajdabiya, the last major hurdle before Benghazi.

The feeling here in Benghazi is that should government troops get to Ajdabiya, it will be a bitter and bloody fight.

Opposition members say before that happens, they hope the international community will act in time and stop the fighting.s.

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