BIN JAWAD, Libya (Reuters) - Libyan rebels took back control on Sunday of the town of Bin Jawad, 525 km (330 miles) east of the capital Tripoli, and said they would push on soon toward Muammar Gaddafi’s stronghold of Sirte.
The rebels have dashed west unchallenged after routing Gaddafi’s forces at the strategic town of Ajdabiyah early on Saturday with the help of Western air strikes.
The advance puts the rebels back in control of all the main oil terminals in the eastern half of Libya, namely Es Sider, Ras Lanuf, Brega, Zueitina and Tobruk.
Some 4 km west of beyond Bin Jawad, the rebels were waiting near the main coastal road with three multiple rocket launchers, six anti-aircraft guns and around a dozen machine gun mounted pick-ups.
“We want to go to Sirte today. I don’t know if it will happen,” said 25-year-old Marjai Agouri, one of around 100 rebel fighters sitting there clutching their guns.
Two were praying in the sand dunes nearby.
Bin Jawad is the western-most point the rebels reached in early March. But shortly after the took the town, Gaddafi’s better-equipped forces pushed them back to their stronghold of Benghazi.
The rebels have grabbed back the initiative since Western planes began bombing Gaddafi’s positions.
In Bin Jawad, there were more than two dozen rebel pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns in the town center. Fighters were shooting in the air in celebration.
“There are no Gaddafi soldiers here. We control all the town,” said rebel fighter Youssef Ahmed, 22. “We are now going to go west. We will fight for Sirte now.”
He said Gaddafi’s soldiers had left Bin Jawad in the night and the rebels had captured 20 to 30 government fighters, some of them from Niger and Mali.
“I really appreciate the French government and the British too. Because of them we created this victory,” said Ahmed. The Gaddafi soldiers “did not expect it to be so fast.”
Writing by Tom Pfeiffer in Cairo