Libyan conflict spills across Tunisian border

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The Independent Online

The battle for control of Libya spilled over into neighbouring Tunisia yesterday as rockets fired by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi landed at a disputed border crossing.

The upsurge in fighting in the west of Libya came as rebel commanders in the besieged port of Misrata accused Nato of accidentally killing some of its fighters in an unconfirmed air strike.

After two months of ebb and flow along the Mediterranean coast, the war in Libya has settled into clashes around rebel outposts beyond the heartland of the resistance against the Gaddafi regime in Benghazi.

Reports of fighting came from the remote south eastern district of Kufra near a border crossing into Egypt and unexplained firing inside Benghazi itself.

In a pattern that has been repeated since the beginning of the uprising, rebel forces last week took the area around the Dehiba-Wazin border crossing with Tunisia and proclaimed themselves ready to withstand an expected counter-attack. When that attack came to the mountainous area yesterday in a hail of artillery, the rebels were scattered.

A Reuters cameraman confirmed that government forces had last night retaken the crossing.

"Fighting broke out on the Tunisian territory, in Dehiba, after Gaddafi's forces attacked the border crossing," said Ali, a Tunisian involved in helping Libyans arriving in Dehiba. "The rebels have withdrawn and are now inside Tunisia."

Shells landing inside Tunisia will raise concerns over the UK's expanding role in the conflict as defence secretary Liam Fox said on Wednesday that British troops could be sent to the Tunisian border to assist in humanitarian operations.

Dr Fox warned that Nato faced a 'protracted' fight to oust Mr Gaddafi. "Our resolve is there and if we have to do it over a protracted period, we will do so," he told a House of Commons committee yesterday. "The idea that we would say we have got a time limit on what we are doing or we think it is OK maybe if he stays is not the message that our international partners would expect."

The alleged death of 11 rebel fighters in Misrata on Wednesday underlined the difficulties faced by Nato in its effort to provide air support to relieve the siege. A rebel commander said the deaths had been 'avoidable' but hoped it would not discourage Nato from striking against regime forces encircling the town.