Libyan rebels claim victory in key oil terminal

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Libyan rebels battling Moammar Gadhafi’s troops along the country’s Mediterranean coast said they captured a key oil terminal Thursday that has repeatedly changed hands in the 6-month-old civil war.

Rebel spokesman Mohammed al-Rijali said he was with the fighters in Brega when they gained control of the strategic port city, 125 miles southwest of the de-facto rebel capital of Benghazi, after three weeks of intense fighting.

“Brega is liberated,” al-Rijali told the Associated Press after nightfall.

Al-Rijali, who spoke over the telephone from nearby Ajdabiya, didn’t provide any details or a casualty toll. His claim could not be immediately verified. Officials in the Libyan capital Tripoli made no comment on the rebel claim.

Brega fell under rebel control briefly in March, but was recaptured by Gadhafi’s forces shortly afterward. The fighting around the city has gone back and forth since then, with the rebels not managing to keep their ground.

Brega’s capture would be an important boost for the rebels because whoever controls the strategic oil terminal, which is also Libya’s second-largest hydrocarbon complex, is in charge of the country’s main oil fields.

Another rebel spokesman, Mohammed al-Zawawi, said earlier Thursday two rebels died in the day’s fighting in Brega, while 16 others were wounded.

Libya’s civil war has been deadlocked for months despite NATO’s airstrikes to protect civilians. Tripoli officials and some members of the U.N. Security Council, including Russia, claim the airstrikes have killed scores of civilians — which NATO refutes.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed deep concern Thursday at reports of “the unacceptably large number of civilian casualties” and called on all parties to exercise extreme caution in their actions, in order to minimize any further loss of civilian life,” the U.N. spokesman’s office said in a statement.

Ban reiterated “his strongly held belief that there can be no military solution to the Libyan crisis” and called for a ceasefire linked to a political process that meets the aspirations of the Libyan people as “the only viable means to achieving peace and security in Libya.”

The revolt in Libya began in mid-February, with the rebels quickly wresting control of much of the eastern half of the country, as well as pockets in the west.

But the conflict later settled into a stalemate with the rebels failing to budge the front lines in the east since April, and making only minor gains from the pockets they control in the western Nafusa mountains and the port city of Misrata. Gadhafi, meanwhile, continues to control the rest of the west from his stronghold in Tripoli.

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