Libyan Opposition Fighters Capture Strategic City of Zawiya

Rebels are advancing on Libyan capital, Tripoli.

Aug. 20, 2011 — -- Opposition fighters have captured the strategic Libyan coastal city of Zawiya on their march toward the capital, Tripoli, leaving Colonel Muammar Gadhafi's 41-year grip on power looking more precarious than ever.

Fighting has been going on for more than a week on the main streets of Zawiya, with Gadhafi snipers positioned on top of Zawiya's hospital, a bank and a hotel overlooking the main square. Gadhafi forces have now fled the city, and rebel forces poured into the city's main square, according to The Associated Press.

A rebel fighter in Zawiya who identified himself as Hussein told ABC News Radio the rebels' plan is to consolidate their hold on the key coastal city, while another group of fighters pushes towards the capital, Tripoli.

"The freedom fighter of Zawiyan people will be staying here and Tripoli freedom fighter will be in the front to go towards Tripoli," Hussein said.

Hussein said it's too late for talking -- Gadhafi had his chance.

"I think we should capture him and take him to justice," Hussein said.

The rebel forces also gained control of Zlitan, a city 100 miles east of Tripoli.

There were reports on Friday that the rebels also captured the port city of Brega, which would have been an important boost for the opposition forces. Brega contains Libya's second largest hydrocarbon complex and is where the country's main oil fields feed into for refining.

But today, rebel military spokesman Col. Ahmed Bani said his troops fell back in Brega, losing the industrial section of the key oil port to Gadhafi's forces, according to the AP.

The rebels also claimed to have captured the town of Zlitan in western Libya, but the government is denying their claims.

The rebels are celebrating their capture of Zawiya, but the advance has been costly. More than 30 rebel fighters were killed and more than 100 wounded in heavy fighting.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman, visiting the city of Benghazi, which the rebels have been using as their headquarters, announced the reopening of Libya's embassy in Washington, D.C., under the control of the opposition Transitional National Council, not Gadhafi's envoys.

The Obama administration approved the embassy's reopening in August after formally recognizing the Benghazi-based Council as Libya's governing body.

The State Department shut down the Libyan Embassy in February after closing the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.

"Gadhafi's days are numbered," Feltman told reporters in Benghazi today. "The best-case scenario is for Gadhafi to step down now ... that's the best protection for civilians."