31 July 2011 — Morning Star
Libya’s rebel council was forced onto the defensive today as it reported fierce fighting with a rival faction over a base on the outskirts of Benghazi.
The National Transitional Council (NTC) Information Minister Mahmoud Shamam said that NTC forces had won control of the al-Nidaa Brigade base after a five-hour firefight which killed four rebel soldiers.
The al-Nidaa Brigade was officially aligned with the NTC but council officials said today that it had been involved in organising jailbreaks in rebel-controlled areas and had operated as a ‘fifth column’ for the government of Colonel Muammar Gadaffi.
The Libyan government in Tripoli has denied having any connection to the brigade.
The operation had nothing to do with the death of rebel military commander Abdul-Fattah Younis on Thursday, the NTC said.
Council official Ali Tarhuni said over the weekend it had been the work of another rebel group, the Jirah Ibn al-Obeidi brigade, although he added that he ‘didn’t know who they worked for.’
NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil has admitted that Mr Younis had been arrested and was on his way to Benghazi, but claimed: ‘We don’t know why this arrest warrant was issued and we don’t know who was present at the meeting when the decision was made, or on what basis it was made.’
The NTC insisted that the military chief’s death had ‘made us stronger’ by strengthening their resolve but today’s fighting has heightened Nato concerns that the council, which has been recognised as the government of Libya by belligerent powers including the US, France and Britain, is losing its grip on the rebel movement.
French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet struck a note of desperation today as it appeared the Libyan rebels might crumble before the government does.
Nato chiefs had hoped that their bombing campaign would give rebels the edge needed to defeat Col Gadaffi, but his administration remains in control of most of the west of the country.
Mr Longuet promised that the military alliance would ‘not abandon’ the NTC but added ‘things have to move more in Tripoli. The population must rise up.’
Nato broadened its definition of ‘military targets’ over the weekend, bombing Libyan TV stations on the grounds that they were ‘inciting violence.’