* Western mountain fighters push towards Gaddafi-held town
* NATO aircraft heard overhead
* Gaddafi's forces responding with rocket fire
By Peter Graff
AL-QALAA, Libya, July 6 Hundreds of Libyan
rebels launched a massed offensive in the mountains southwest of
Tripoli on Wednesday to seize a village held by Muammar
Gaddafi's forces and push the front line closer to the capital.
Rebels arrived at the front at first light in scores of
Toyota pick-up trucks, many with large-calibre anti-aircraft
guns or home-made rocket launchers welded onto the truck beds.
Several tanks also came on the backs of lorries.
The rebels began firing rockets and mortars at dawn, cries
of "Allahu Akbar!" or "God is greatest!" echoing through groves
of olive, almond and fig trees with each outgoing blast.
Gaddafi's forces responded with intermittent volleys of Grad
tactical surface-to-surface rockets. Clouds of black smoke came
from the hillsides where the incoming rounds exploded.
Five months into their revolt, rebels have gained little
ground elsewhere but have made steady progress here on a high
plateau which juts several hundred kilometres (miles) into Libya
from the Tunisian border and overlooks a coastal plain leading
The rebels' aim on Wednesday was to push 10 km (6 miles)
from the town of Al-Qalaa to the village of Al-Qawalish, which
is held by Gaddafi's forces.
The fighters were pushing south-east, away from the capital,
but taking Al-Qawalish is strategically important because beyond
it, further to the east, is the larger town of Garyan which
controls the main highway north to the capital.
Throughout the morning, rebels advanced on foot through
hilly wasteland and orchards towards Al-Qawalish carrying old
rifles and makeshift rocket launchers.
The hills reverberated with call-and-response chants of
"There is no God but God!"
After several hours, the rebels had advanced a couple of
kilometres towards Al-Qawalish, and there was no sign of any
NATO warplanes could be heard in the sky, but it could not
be confirmed if the aircraft were coordinating with the rebels.
(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)