The pick-up trucks screeched to a halt in a cloud of dust. Fighters – some injured, some already dead – were brought out amid cries of "Allahu Akbar!". The assault on Bani Walid was proving a bloody business.
The skirmishes continued, street by street, hour after hour, as rebel fighters met fierce resistance while they attempted to drive the forces of Muammar Gaddafi from the town centre. Controlling Bani Walid has become a matter of prestige for the revolutionaries after their repeated claims that they had seized it proved false. The town, along with Sirte and Sabbha, remain strongholds of the former regime and their stands in the face of rebel offensives and Nato air strikes have been used by Colonel Gaddafi and his son Saif al-Islam to taunt the new government.
Yesterday, loyalists at Bani Walid showed no signs of giving up the increasingly unequal struggle. Grad rockets and mortar rounds landed near us as we attempted to advance with rebel fighters into the marketplace from where there had been relentless fire in the afternoon.
Yusuf Ali Badri had just scrambled out of his gun-mounted flat-bed truck when he was shot in the shoulder, the bullet spinning him around before he dropped to the ground. Six minutes later, another member of the Tripoli Brigade was hit in the thigh by a shot seemingly from a different direction.
The hits panicked fighters around the fallen men, sparking a brief retreat. Then followed accusations of betrayal, which has increasingly riven the rebel ranks. "The firing came from behind us," shouted one man waving his Kalashnikov. "It is the Bani Walid brigade, you cannot trust them, they are with Gaddafi."
Exiled fighters from the town fighting alongside the revolutionaries have been charged with putting loyalty to their tribe, the Warfallah, before the cause. A previous operation had ended in losses and recrimination with the Bani Walid contingent being accused of sending other fighters into a trap.
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