* High hopes for swift advance on Tripoli fade
* Rebels lack proper weapons
* Grad missiles come raining down
By Michael Georgy
BIR AL-GHANAM, Libya, Aug 5 When Libyan rebels
pushed government forces out of a cement plant on the edge of
Bir al-Ghanam last month and set up a position about 80 km (50
miles) from Tripoli, victory seemed within reach.
But the men -- who hold the rebel position in the Western
Mountains closest to the Libyan capital - are finding it hard to
advance just a few hundred metres, let alone reach Muammar
Gaddafi's main stronghold.
"When we took over we kept saying 'We will reach Tripoli
soon'. We even called our families and said we are so close to
Tripoli. Now we don't really predict anymore. We just hope,"
said a rebel named Mufaat, who asked that his last name not be
used to protect his family from reprisals.
Conditions at Bir al-Ghanam highlight the difficulties of
trying to tilt the balance of Libya's war in favour of rebels
seeking to end Gaddafi's 41-year-long rule.
Lawyers, doctors and students, now dressed in camouflage but
still learning to fight on the job, sit at the plant trying to
figure out how to get an edge over a well-trained army.
Government forces are located about 2 kilometers away in the
town of Bir al-Ghanam.
Anytime the rebels, armed with AK-47 assault rifles, move
forward past a mountain ridge, they hit open, rough desert
terrain which offers no cover against superior weapons such as
mortars and heavy machineguns.
Government forces have spread landmines as well.
"Gaddafi's forces will cut us down if we try to advance,"
said 22-year-old rebel Mahmoud Abdullah, a student who was
inside a tent.
"At first we thought we could advance to Tripoli in a few
days or a week.. But there is no way it can happen quickly.
Gaddafi's forces are so organised. They often move around at
night and flash their car lights as signals. It's hard to
predict their movements."
One thing they do often is fire Grad missiles at the rebels.
Sometimes up to 20 land a day, leaving big white explosion
marks in the desert cliffs, or large gaping holes like the one
in the cement plant.
There are other dangers too. Last Thursday, Gaddafi's forces
surrounded the rebels by crossing over nearby mountains. Three
rebels were killed in ensuing clashes.
The fighters have little protection, mostly AK-47 assault
rifles, or a few government machineguns that were abandoned when
they overran the area.
"We don't think there will be much change here as long as we
only have these light weapons," said a rebel named Salem, as he
tried to repair one of the machineguns and other fighters
cleaned bullets with wet pieces of cardboard.
In Libya's Western Mountains, the rebels hold a chain of
towns stretching more than 200 km (124 miles) across a bleak
plateau from the Tunisian border. They have just captured a few
towns and villages in a new offensives.
But as Bir al-Ghanam illustrates, pressing ahead to Tripoli
presents far greater challenges.
Rebels spend much of their time praying, hoping the Muslim
fasting month of Ramadan will give them strength and,
They also need patience. "I am sure we will win. I am so
sure that when I got engaged I vowed I would not marry until
that tyrant Gaddafi falls," said rebel Muhammad Mukhtar. "I just
hope I don't have to wait too long."
(Editing by Douglas Hamilton and Gareth Jones)