Libyan rebels celebrate win in battle near Tripoli

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Residents of the rebel-held city closest to Libya’s capital celebrated with a victory march Tuesday after repelling an overnight attack by Moammar Gadhafi’s forces. But troops loyal to the longtime leader clamped down on a strategic mountain town as they fought to reclaim areas near Tripoli, residents said.

The rebels have been fighting to consolidate their gains as the international community weighs new moves to isolate the longtime Libyan leader, including the possibility of creating a no-fly zone over Libya.

Witnesses in Zawiya said pro-Gadhafi forces battled rebels for six hours overnight but could not retake control of the city 30 mileswest of Tripoli. They said the last of several assaults by the Gadhafi loyalists came at around 3 a.m. local time.

“Allahu Akbar (God is Great) for our victory,” residents of Zawiya chanted as they paraded through the city’s main square. Some carried on their shoulders an air force colonel they said had just defected to the rebels’ side.

“We were worried about air raids but that did not happen,” said one resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The Zawiya rebels, who include mutinous army forces, are armed with tanks, machine guns and anti-aircraft guns. They fought back pro-Gadhafi troops, armed with the same weapons, who attacked from six directions. There was no word on casualties.

“We will not give up Zawiya at any price,” said one witness. “We know it is significant strategically. They will fight to get it, but we will not give up. We managed to defeat them because our spirits are high and their spirits are zero.”

The witnesses in Zawiya said youths from the city were stationed on the rooftops of high-rise buildings in the city to monitor the movements of the pro-Gadhafi forces and sound the warning if they thought an attack was imminent. They also spoke about generous offers of cash by the regime for the rebels to hand control of the city back to authorities.

Residents passed out sweets and cold drinks to fighters in Zawiya. Pro-Gadhafi forces also were repelled as they tried to retake two other opposition-held cities: Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city 125 mileseast of Tripoli, and Zintan, 75 miles south of the Libyan capital.

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