March 4, 2011 / 12:37 AM / 8 years ago

Libyan rebel-held city on guard, fears for supplies

RABAT (Reuters) - Rebels holding a port city near the Libyan capital are on alert for an attack by government forces and fear medical supplies are running short, two residents told Reuters by telephone.

Rebels in Zawiyah, 50 kms (30 miles) west of Tripoli, have been launching counter-attacks against forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi massing in the area.

“Women and children are at home while the men are armed and roam the streets and city limits in anticipation of a major attack by pro-Gaddafi forces tonight,” resident Ibrahim said.

“They have deployed in larger numbers over the past three days. We estimate there are 2,000 on the southern side of town and have gathered 80 armored vehicles from the east,” he said adding a battalion had also come from the west side.

Ibrahim said the armed forces would occasionally use heavy machineguns to fire from long distance.

“But our youths are not sitting idle. We killed two of their men last night and operations like these allow us to build up our arsenal. We have already seized 10 to 15 of the army’s tanks and a large number of Kalashnikovs,” he said.

His account could not immediately be verified.

The government says it is not using military force to retake rebel-held cities although one official did not rule it out if all other options were exhausted.

In eastern Libya, witnesses said a warplane bombed Brega the oil terminal town 800 km (500 miles) east of Tripoli, for a second day, to control a strategically vital coast road and oil industry facilities.

Protesters in Zawiyah have said roadblocks around the city were disrupting food and medicine supplies. “Food supplies are shrinking, but the situation is not getting critical. It’s a blessing that Zawiyah is an agricultural area,” Ibrahim said, adding there were problems with medical supplies.

“Workers at Zawiyah’s public hospital went today to Tripoli to get some for the civilians wounded during clashes ... but the administration there that supplies public hospitals refused to hand them any simply because it was destined for Zawiyah.”

International health aid groups say wounded people in Libya cannot access medicines and care because armed men are blocking roads and civilians are too scared to seek help.

“We are starting to have problems with supplies for some medicines as well as getting baby formula. Food is ok — we have a big store that is being guarded,” said Zawiyah resident Ali. “Libya needs help from the international community. We only want our freedom,” he said.

Reporting by Souhail Karam and Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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