After several days of calm near the hamlet of Goualich, roughly one-hundred kilometers south of Tripoli, the fighting started again Sunday between rebels and forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi. This time, the soldiers backing the Libyan regime struck first.
The casualty toll after a day of clashes speaks to the inability of each side to get a leg up on the other: two minor injuries for the rebels and no ground gained by anyone.
On Saturday, the rebels had already managed to fight off a counter-offensive from pro-regime forces, thus maintaining the status quo.
A door to Tripoli
Goualich is a much-coveted strategic spot in the conflict, having been passed back and forth between rebel and pro-regime hands over the last several months. For the rebels, the hamlet makes for a good base camp in their progression toward the capital.
For the pro-Gaddafi forces, too, Goualich is a bastion that must be defended. While our special envoys were reporting from the ground on Sunday, pro-Gaddafi forces were in the midst of the counter-offensive they had launched an hour earlier. They started out on foot before using heavy artillery.
“Today, they started advancing toward us, dressed in civilian clothes and carrying green flags,” one Libyan rebel told FRANCE 24. “But these are soldiers, I’m sure of it. We knew it was a trap, so we started to shoot and they fled.”
A correspondent from Agence France-Presse on the ground reported having spoken to several witnesses who said the pro-Gaddafi forces had indeed sent civilians in before the attack in order to convince the rebels to surrender.
Tanks as a last resort
The clashes lasted all day Sunday, providing no clear advantage to either side. AFP correspondents reported hearing the sounds of bombings and heavy artillery fire for three hours, which finally petered out around 7:30 pm local time.
By the end of the day, it was clear to the rebels that the status quo would be protected for at least one more day. Responding to one rebel who asked if it was going to be possible to gain ground on pro-Gaddafi forces, another responded: “No chance. We’ll have to come back tomorrow with our tanks.”
The rebels know that in certain situations, gridlock is inevitable – and that the road to Tripoli remains long.