(Adds details, reporting from scene)
* Six hour battle takes rebels close to coast
* Push for government-held Zawiyah gains pace
By Michael Georgy
NORTH OF BIR SHUAIB, Libya, Aug 13 Rebels in
western Libyan advanced north to within 25 km (15 miles) of the
coastal city of Zawiyah on Saturday after fighting a six-hour
battle with pro-Gaddafi forces, Reuters journalists at the scene
Rebel fighters pushed government troops back about 7 km from
their previous positions, fixing a front line about 5 km north
of the village of Bir Shuaib, near a diaper factory.
They set up a checkpoint on the road there and about 150
fighters gathered, some firing weapons in the air to celebrate
Rebels said it had been a heavy battle, with pro-Gaddafi
forces using anti-tank guns. A medic said three rebel fighters
were wounded in the battle, but none were killed.
Rebels advancing from the mountains southwest of the capital
hope to reach Zawiyah, cutting off the coastal highway to
Tunisia that links Tripoli with the outside world, and putting
unprecedented pressure on Gaddafi's bastion in the capital.
Government troops withdrew after six hours of fighting, the
"God willing, we will be attacking Zawiyah in one or two
days," said rebel commander Mokhtar Lakdar.
"We are hoping to go to Zawiyah soon," said 17-year-old
fighter Mohammed Al-Riffi. "We are just waiting for help from
NATO and more ammunition."
Judging by impact craters, wrecked buildings and burnt-out
tanks, warplanes of the western alliance have bombed and
rocketed government military targets on the route of the rebel
advance over the past week, providing close air support.
Zawiyah is the home town of many of the rebels battling on
the western front. It has staged two uprisings against Gaddafi
since March but remains in government hands along with its
refinery and harbour on the Mediterranean coast.
Gaddafi's deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim on Friday said
the rebels could not take Zawiyah. A captured Libyan
intelligence officer told Reuters the army had reinforced its
garrison in the town and was ready for a fight.
Mahmoud Al-Rivavi, 32, a former shopkeeper turned fighter
said "Gaddafi's men are about 5 km ahead".
"We went on a patrol a short while ago and they shot at us
so we were told to come back, but we hope to make it to Zawiyah
soon," he added.
Government forces had fortified their position at Bir Shuaib
with about 10 two-tonne concrete barriers and sand berms.
Scattered around were two green blankets, tarpaulin for a tent,
a packet of marmalade and some grapes.
Left by the berm was a portait of Gaddafi with the words:
"Leader of the world."
A copy of Gaddafi's Green Book -- his work setting out his
views on government and philosophy -- lay nearby. The pages of
the book had been torn out by someone, leaving only the
Pamphlets from pro-government Muslim clerics, criticising
the rebels, had also been left behind by the retreating troops.
(Editing by Douglas Hamilton and Peter Graff)