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Libyan Rebels Open New Front Near Qaddafi's Southern Stronghold

July 18: Libyan rebel cadets train to become freedom fighters in Kabaw's military academy in Libya's western mountains.AP

Rebel fighters penetrated Libya's southwestern desert and pulled within 80 miles (130 kilometers) of Muammar al-Qaddafi's southern stronghold, opening a new front and suggesting that the strongman's grip was slipping even in areas believed to be firmly in his control, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

The rebels captured a small village south of Sebha on Monday. The fall of Sebha, one of Qaddafi's three regional power centers, would be a huge symbolic and strategic blow.

The city of 130,000 is a logistics hub for the regime, channeling food, fuel and other war supplies northward from southern farmlands and neighboring Algeria, Chad and Niger, according to rebel leaders.

With the latest offensive, rebels have now made progress on every front of the war.

Despite the advance, the force threatening Sebha is hundreds of miles south of Tripoli and poses no direct threat to the capital, where Qaddafi and his family are still clinging to power.

Even if the rebels only threaten Sebha, which Qaddafi left lightly defended until now thanks to strong tribal support in the area, it could force him to redeploy units battling elsewhere to defend the city, further stretching his battered forces.

To read more on the rebel fighting in Libya, see The Wall St. Journal article here.