TRIPOLI, Libya – Rebels in Libya’s western mountains said they have advanced and are battling Moammar Gadhafi’s forces in a strategic town southwest of the capital, ramping up pressure against government troops on a second front.
The rebels’ claim of an advance into the outskirts of the town of Bair al-Ghanam, some 50 miles from Tripoli, follows weeks of intense fighting in the Nafusa mountains in which opposition forces have slowly pushed Gadhafi troops back toward the capital.
Libya’s rebels control the eastern third of the country and pockets, including a number of Nafusa mountain towns, in the west.
The bulk of the fighting in recent months has been focused on front lines to the east of Tripoli. But a push by rebels from the Nafusa mountains could force Gadhafi to commit more troops to the southern and western approaches to the capital.
Guma el-Gamaty, a spokesman for the rebels’ National Transitional Council, said the town of Bair al-Ghanam is significant because it is only 19 miles south of the city of Zawiya, a key western gateway to the capital and home to a crucial oil refinery.
In Tripoli, Gadhafi’s government remained defiant. Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said Gadhafi is in “high spirits” and remains in day-to-day control of the country. He insisted Gadhafi will remain in Libya, but wouldn’t confirm that the leader is still in the capital.
As he spoke, deafening bursts of automatic rifle fire shot into the air by female soldiers and fresh civilian trainees rang out at a pro-government event in central Tripoli. Moussa told reporters that the government so far has distributed 1.2 million weapons to supporters in the west of the country to defend themselves.
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