* Fighting gets closer to Tripoli
* Clashes around Zawiyah
* 21 rebels, six soldiers killed on two eastern fronts
* Government renews charges of NATO massacre
(Adds context paragraph 9)
By Martin Veal and Missy Ryan
NEAR ZAWIYAH/TRIPOLI, Libya, Aug 13 Libyan
government forces and rebels clashed around the western town of
Zawiyah on Saturday as the insurgents tried to push closer to
the capital Tripoli.
Reporters heard gunfire and skirmishing in the coastal town,
about 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli. The highway from the
capital to the Tunisian border was blocked there.
The government confirmed fighting in the area but said a
rebel attempt to capture Zawiyah had been beaten back.
Zawiyah is "absolutely under our control," government
spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told reporters in Tripoli.
"A very small group of rebels tried to move into the south
of Zawiyah but they were stopped easily because of our armed
forces," he said.
But a rebel spokesman, Mohammed Ezzawi, speaking from inside
Zawiyah, said the rebel force was about 800 metres from Martyrs'
Square in the city centre.
"The Gaddafi Brigade occupy the eastern part of the main
road while we are on the western side. There has been an intense
exchange of fire on this road, which links Tripoli to Tunisia,"
he told Reuters by telephone.
"If we manage to take Zawiyah we will be blocking this road
and it will mean the death of Gaddafi," he said, predicting the
town would fall by Sunday.
If rebels take Zawiyah, an oil refinery town so close to
Tripoli, it would deliver a psychological blow to Gaddafi's
supporters. It would also leave the capital under partial siege
because the main supply route to Tunisia would be cut and
Tripoli would be starved of fuel, already in short supply.
Rebel fighters returning south to Bir al-Ghanam told Reuters
the force was in the city centre but not in complete control.
"We took over the centre of Zawiyah about an hour ago. There
were mercenaries there. The fighting lasted about 30 minutes and
then they ran away," said a rebel fighter named Ahmed.
He said people had come out in to the streets to celebrate.
A second rebel, Abdelsalam, said: "We're in control of the
centre. Some Gaddafi troops have fled to Tripoli, some are left
over, and there are also mercenaries in the town. So we don't
have complete control yet."
Dr Asim Shaybee, at a field hospital at Bir Ayyad gate south
of the fighting, said four rebels were killed by an accidental
NATO airstrike on a rebel tank at Zawiyah.
Several rebels were wounded including "one of them ... shot
in the head by a sniper" the doctor said.
According to government spokesman Ibrahim, fewer than 100
rebels entered the city from the south and they tried to join up
with 50 rebels within the city but they had been "dealt with".
Government forces were still fighting the rebels inside the
city, he said.
Ibrahim said it was "not an advance but a skirmish, a
The source inside Zawiyah said the rebel advance was helped
by NATO strike at Nattafah 15 km south of the city.
"There was a very large number of Gaddafi forces in that
region," he said.
Rebels trying to overthrow Gaddafi hope to capture Zawiyah
and cut off his stronghold in the capital from access to the
outside world by severing the coastal highway, which has been a
lifeline for the embattled government.
They advanced north to within 25 km (15 miles) of Zawiyah
earlier in the day, following what they said was a six-hour
battle which pushed the front line closer to Tripoli.
CASUALTIES HIGHER IN EAST
In other fighting on two fronts well to the east of Tripoli,
at Brega and near Misrata, at least 21 rebels and six soldiers
were killed over the past two days, with some 50 rebels wounded.
Neither side claimed major advances in the past 24 hours.
Libya's state news agency said a NATO air strike killed six
men in Brega. NATO said it targeted two armoured vehicles there.
Judging by impact craters, wrecked buildings and burnt-out
tanks, NATO warplanes have also bombed government military
targets on the route of the western rebel advance to Zawiyah
over the past week, providing close air support.
Zawiyah is the home town of many of the rebels battling on
the western front and has staged two uprisings against Gaddafi
since the nationwide revolt broke out in February.
On Libya's most easterly front, at least 21 rebels and
government soldiers were killed in fighting for the oil terminal
of Brega in the past two days, hospital workers said.
A volunteer at the hospital in Ajdabiyah, where fighters
wounded in Brega are taken, said 15 rebel fighters had been
killed and about 50 wounded. He said the bodies of six
government soldiers were brought in on Friday.
The Libyan state news agency JANA reported that six
"martyrs", all men, were killed in a NATO raid on Brega, and the
alliance confirmed it had targeted two armoured vehicles.
In fighting around a second eastern front in Misrata, much
closer to Tripoli, at least six rebels were killed in the past
24 hours, rebel sources said.
In Misrata, a port on the Mediterranean under rebel control
for months, six rebel fighters were killed in fighting on
Friday. There was no word on government casualties.
Three rebels were killed west of the city in fighting for
Zlitan, west of Misrata. Further south, three more died in
battles with Gaddafi's forces in the town of Tawargha.
(Additional reporting by Tarek Amara in Tunisia, Missy Ryan
in Tripoli, Robert Birsel in Benghazi, Joseph Nasr in Berlin;
Souhail Kamar is Rabat; Michael Georgy in Bir al-Ghanam. Writing
by Douglas Hamilton; Editing by Rosalind Russell)