CNN Wire Staff
Libyan opposition fighters Monday entered territory loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, but soon had to flee amid a barrage of gunfire, rebels told CNN.
As they moved into Umm el Ghindel - near Sirte, Gadhafi's birthplace - they began searching some homes and found that Gadhafi's forces had armed residents in the area, rebels said. As they were talking to residents, asking them to join the opposition, gunfire broke out. Rebels told CNN they refused to fire back and began a hasty retreat. A stream of vehicles could be seen fleeing the area.
CNN could not confirm details of what had transpired.
Earlier, a wounded rebel with bandages on the left side of his head and face described what happened Monday about 30 kilometers (nearly 20 miles) from Sirte, near the city's main entrance.
He said he and a group of fellow opposition fighters came across a group of Gadhafi forces who raised a white flag - a suggestion that they would not shoot. But as the opposition approached the group, the Gadhafi forces fired on them indiscriminately, killing some of the opposition members and wounding others, the rebel told CNN's Arwa Damon. Vehicles were destroyed as well, he said.
Rebels credited coalition airstrikes with helping them regain ground, noting that they had encountered little resistance as they headed west over the weekend. But they said Monday that they need more airstrikes to advance further.
Coalition officials say they are enforcing a U.N. Security Council resolution approved on March 17 that creates a no-fly zone above Libya and mandates the protection of civilians.
Taking Sirte would be a symbolic victory for the rebels, who regained control of several significant towns over the weekend as coalition airstrikes continued in the North African nation.
Rebel forces claimed to have gained control of the town of Ras Lanuf on Sunday. The opposition also appeared to have taken control of the key oil town of al-Brega. Victories in those cities marked a comeback for the ragtag group of amateur soldiers who are unified by one mission: toppling Gadhafi's nearly 42-year rule.
On Monday, opposition troops and Gadhafi's security forces battled over the town of Nawfaliyah. Opposition forces told CNN they had gained control of the city.
CNN could hear explosions and see plumes of smoke in the area of Nawfaliyah and Sirte.
Rebels said the fight to take over Sirte could be their toughest and bloodiest battle yet.
Special to CNN
Editor's note: Ömer Taspinar is Professor of National Security Strategy at the U.S. National War College and the Director of the Turkey Project at the Brookings Institution, a non-profit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C.
After the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, the West nervously waited for similar uprisings in the "Arab Street." Practically nothing changed in the Arab world in the last 30 years. Yet, since the beginning of 2011, events in the Middle East have been unfolding at a dizzying pace.
We are only in March, and already regimes in Tunisia and Egypt have been overthrown by the peoples' demonstrations; the uprising in Libya has forced the international community to take military action against Muammar Gadhafi; Yemen is witnessing bloody chaos; Syria is showing signs of serious unrest and Saudi Arabia intervened in Bahrain to crush the opposition.
Welcome to a rapidly changing new Middle East.
So far, none of the peoples' movements have been directed against the West. It was not "Western imperialism" but a combination of domestic political repression, youth unemployment, heightened expectations and socio-economic deprivation that mobilized Arab masses.
Unfortunately, this positive dynamic may soon come to an end.
In the eyes of many Arabs in the region, a deeply troubling Western double standard is emerging. Many in the region are asking a simple question: Why is the West willing to intervene in Libya, while there is total Western silence about the brutal suppression of dissidents in Bahrain?
The West appears to be quite selective in lending its support to the "Arab Spring."
As Ramy Khouri, an insightful analyst from Lebanon, warns us: "The lesson that many are drawing is that two distinct standards apply to Arab citizens' rights. In countries like Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, the world will accept or actively support constitutional changes that citizens of those countries demand. In other Arab countries, like Bahrain, the rights of citizens are secondary to wider energy and security needs."
The fact that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent troops to Bahrain clearly shows that these energy-producing conservative Arab countries are deeply worried about a spillover of unrest into their own countries.
There is also the fear of Iran looming on the horizon. Through its Shiite proxies, Iran can support opposition forces in Yemen and Bahrain. Bahrain has a Shiite majority and Yemen a significant Shiite minority. There is therefore a strong undertone of Sunni-Shiite tension behind Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E's action.
Special to CNN
Editor's note: Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter," published by Times Books, and "Arsenal of Democracy." The opinions in this blog are solely those of Julian Zelizer.
Many people across the political spectrum have been unhappy with President Barack Obama's decision to send American fighting forces to attack Libya. They argue that Obama failed to provide an adequate explanation for making this choice.
"Lots of confusion," said Sarah Palin, "What is the mission here in Libya?" A number of prominent Democrats have likewise wondered why the president entered this fight and said they felt Congress was not sufficiently consulted.
Sen. James Webb, D-Virginia, and a Vietnam veteran, warned that "this isn't the way our system is supposed to work." Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, called the attack an "impeachable offense" (though he later said that impeachment was not on the table).
With all the attention that is being paid to Obama's inconsistent rationales, there has been less concern about the ease with which the White House sent U.S. forces into combat. Indeed, the country seems so accustomed to presidents employing military force at their own will that there are few voices demanding democratic consent.
The dynamics surrounding Libya are not unique to the current president. Rather, they are a product of the nature of war in modern America. For decades, U.S. presidents have been willing to send significant numbers of troops and materiel into overseas conflict with great frequency.
Tom Foreman | BIO
Reporter's Note: I’ve enjoyed a week off even as I’ve continued my daily letters to the White House.
Dear Mr. President,
I’m wrapping up a week off of work, and heading back to the office today, and I must say it feels wonderful. I mean, the week off. Going back to work? Well, as much as I enjoy and appreciate my job, I could sure use another week of cooling out.
People say that you really should take two weeks off at a time, because it takes one week just to get ready to relax. I see their point, but I don’t agree. That’s like saying you shouldn’t eat a meal unless you can have an appetizer first. Or something like that. Anyway, it’s been nice not having to answer the bell every morning.