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Key Libyan official leaves country

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Libyan rebels advance on Zawiya

  • NEW: NATO hits Gadhafi forces
  • Gadhafi admonished his supporters to take up arms against rebel forces
  • Rebel claims indicate supply roads to Tripoli may be cut off
  • CNN cannot confirm who controls disputed areas

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) — Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi urged supporters early Monday to take up arms and do battle against rebel forces to “cleanse this sweet and honorable land.”

The address, which aired on Libyan state television, came hours after rebels claimed advances in a number of cities in western Libya, which would put them at Tripoli’s doorstep and potentially cut off at least one important Gadhafi supply line.

The government has denied the rebel claims.

Loud cheers from the crowd accompanied the speech on Libyan state television, their cries of “Allah, Libya, Gadhafi and nothing else” drowning out Gadhafi at times.

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Although the Libyan leader seemed to speak to individuals in the crowd, directly addressing their actions as they appeared on screen, he never appeared on camera.

“We dance and sing despite the strikes! The strikes will be over and NATO will be defeated,” Gadhafi said. “Move always forward to the challenge; pick up your weapons; go to the fight in order to liberate Libya inch by inch from the traitors and from NATO. Be prepared to fight if they hit the ground.”

Rebel forces fought Gadhafi’s troops Sunday for control of several western areas, a rebel spokesman said. But claims of control over the city of al-Zawiya — if true — would be a strategic blow against government forces, since the road through the city serves as a critical supply line to Tripoli from the west.

Western rebel spokesman Col. Jumma Ibrahim said Sunday that rebel forces held down most of the city. Rebel field commander Adel al-Zintani told CNN his fighters were “clearing the city of Gadhafi forces. There are minor clashes going on inside al-Zawiya.”

NATO bombed an anti-aircraft gun belonging to Gadhafi’s forces in al-Zawiya Sunday, the alliance said in a news release Monday. NATO had previously reported hitting two Gadhafi tanks near al-Zawiya on Saturday.

NATO reported 15 “key hits” on Sunday in Tripoli.

In a televised news conference, Musa Ibrahim, a government spokesman, denied the claims and said government forces halted the rebel attacks in al-Zawiya.

Rebel commander Al-Zintani strongly rejected Musa Ibrahim’s assertions that Gadhafi’s forces controlled al-Zawiya and Surman, another city along the western supply road, as well as the government’s claims to Garyan, another city on the route and an essential supply route leading to Tripoli from the south.

“The next few days will prove him wrong,” the rebel field commander said.

NATO struck a Gadhafi “military facility” in Garyan Sunday.

Jumma Ibrahim has said that rebels control the coastal road connecting al-Zawiya with a border post with Tunisia but that Gadhafi forces still controlled the post. Reports from Tunisia’s state-owned Tataouine radio corroborated the account.

CNN has not been able to confirm independently battle claims, including who controls al-Zawiya.

Daily claims of rebel successes indicate rapid progress when compared with positions rebels claimed on previous days.

The government in Tripoli has consistently downplayed claims of rebel victories and played up the strength of Moammar Gadhafi’s forces.

“You have to remember we are very powerful,” government spokesman Musa Ibrahim said. “The tens of thousands and tens of thousands of volunteers are armed right now. It doesn’t matter whether NATO advances or not, whether rebels advance or not, because we will always be able to fight, in a year’s time, in two years, in three years.”

“Tripoli is safe,” the government spokesman has said.

Five months into the Libyan war, the rebels won international support in their effort to oust Gadhafi.

They have been aided by NATO airstrikes that began in March after the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution that ordered civilians be protected.

CNN’s Kareem Khadder, Jomana Karadsheh, Amir Ahmed, Salma Abdelaziz, Kamal Ghattas and Yasmin Amer contributed to this report.


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