* Fighters fled village, then fought their way back
* Al-Qawalish is a stepping stone towards Tripoli
* Rebels say won't be forced to flee again
By Peter Graff
AL-QAWALISH, Libya, July 14 Libyan rebel
fighters were digging in to this village south of Tripoli on
Thursday after losing it then taking it back in a see-saw battle
that exposed the military frailties of rebel forces.
Rebel fighters took the village, a staging post on the way
to the capital about 100 km (60 miles) north, a week ago, then
they lost it to government troops on Wednesday morning, and by
nightfall they were back in control.
On Thursday morning there were scores of fighters manning
defensive positions throughout Al-Qawalish, and they were
supported by trucks with heavy machine guns mounted on the back.
That was in contrast to the light defences in place on
Wednesday morning when forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar
Gaddafi quickly overran the village.
"We came yesterday and we stayed here and we said we are not
moving until the place is secure," said one rebel fighter who
was manning a machine gun and gave his name as Tommy. "This
mistake is not going to happen again. We're not going home."
Rebels said forces loyal to Gaddafi, who were now positioned
a short distance to the east, had shelled the village overnight
but stopped after dawn. A NATO aircraft could be heard overhead.
Control of Al-Qawalish is strategically important because it
allows the rebels to come down from their mountain stronghold
and move towards the town of Garyan, which controls access to
the main highway leading north to Tripoli.
Mohammed al-Bujdidi, a local rebel commander, said there
were now many more fighters in Al-Qawalish to stop pro-Gaddafi
forces counter-attacking again.
"We do acknowledge that we made mistakes. Some of the
Gaddafi forces were able to sneak past us with the support of
collaborators," he said.
There were still signs of Wednesday evening's battle for
control. Outside the village's eastern edge, the corpses of two
young pro-Gaddafi soldiers lay in the road.
Rebels also said they had taken prisoner two government
officers who, they said, were mercenaries from Mali.
The machine gunner who gave his name as Tommy said that when
the rebels fought their way back into Al-Qawalish they found the
bodies of three of their comrades who, he said, had been
executed by government forces.
He said one of the dead men had been shot at short range
with a large-calibre machine gun. "You could not even recognise
his face," he said.
(Writing by Christian Lowe; editing by Philippa Fletcher)