EXCLUSIVE: Zintan rebels persist
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The mountain stronghold of Zintan has not figured much in media coverage from Libya. In this exclusive report, FRANCE 24 goes behind the scenes with local residents holding out against an onslaught of attacks from Gaddafi's forces.
They are a motley band of fighters whose weapons include bolt-action rifles of a bygone era - but they are determined to protect their town from Gaddafi’s tanks and artillery.
And here in Zintan, in western Libya, they are surrounded.
Gaddafi’s men made short work of the rubble mound and burned-out cars forming a barrier around Zintan, a mountain stronghold 140 km southwest of Tripoli.
The city is strategically important to the Libyan leader, sitting at a crossroads between the capital, the southern oilfields and a nearby ammunition depot.
It's an uneven fight – but the people of Zintan feel they have nothing to lose.
A faltering attack
With a shout of “Allah Akbar,” one of these citizen soldiers moves towards the enemy positioned one hundred yards away. His comrades, most of them without military training or experience, follow hesitantly. Soon they are forced to retreat under a hail of gunfire.
“This man kills innocents,” one fighter tells Florent Marcie, one of the few western journalists present in the region. “We have these old rifles, but most of the people here have nothing at all. His forces shoot shells from their tanks on our homes and children. They shoot at anything.”
On Monday, Gaddafi’s troops pounded Zintan with heavy weapons for several hours.
Witnesses said several houses and the minaret of a mosque were destroyed. They came back on Tuesday and renewed the assault with even greater intensity.
A rebel hub
Zintan was the second city after Benghazi to rise up against Gaddafi in mid-February. It is the most active rebel stronghold in the western mountains - and under leadership from Benghazi it has become a hub of the insurgency.
Even though it is effectively surrounded, Zintan has been helping other towns in the region.
Weapons, including some anti-aircraft guns, have been hidden away in the surrounding countryside. Local engineers have installed telephone lines and satellite connections to communicate with the other insurgent cities.
"Even if Zawiyah and Tripoli are occupied and surrounded, we know how to get through to the people there and how to help them,” said Adel, a young engineer in Zintan talking to Radio Swisse Normande.
He added: “The people of Zintan know the desert well. We can get all the way to Zawiyah across the desert without using any of the roads. We have been sending them food and medicines.”
Despite their primitive weapons, the insurgents have won some significant victories against Gaddafi’s forces.
“They attacked Zintan and were preparing to come back to destroy the city,” one insurgent told Florent Marcie, adding with pride: “We laid an ambush and captured three tanks.”
Nevertheless, there is no decisive victory in sight against Gaddafi’s men, who are gaining more ground every day.