Islamist rebels gear up for possible "major Somali gov't offensive"

MOGADISHU, Sept. 6 (Xinhua) -- Somali Islamist group of Al-Shabaab on Sunday has said it is ready for a major confrontation with the government as the radical group reinforces its positions around the Somali capital Mogadishu, spokesman for the group said.

Numerous trenches are currently being dug in most of the frontlines between Al-Shabaab and the Somali government forces and African Union (AU) peacekeepers in Mogadishu, in preparation for what the rebel group calls "a major aggression" from Somali government forces and AU peacekeepers.

"We are digging the trenches to prevent the enemy forces from making any progress towards our positions in their planned major aggression against us," Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Rage, the spokesman for Al-Shabaab, told reporters in Mogadishu on Sunday.

The Islamist group, along with the other allied faction of Hezbul Islam, control much of the restive coastal Somali capital where the daily confrontation with the government forces backed by the 5,000-strong AU peacekeepers have claimed the lives of many, mostly civilians.

Somali government officials have repeatedly stated their determination to regain control of the nation's capital.

Somali Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Jama said the government intends to spread its authority throughout the country and the capital in particular.

Jama revealed that the Somali government, at the AU summit in Libya, requested the full deployment of the 8,000-strong peacekeeping forces and the changing of the mission's mandate to enable the forces to carry out pre-emptive strikes against rebel forces.

Mandate of the AU forces is currently limited to providing protection to senior Somali government officials and guarding main government installations in Mogadishu including the sea and airport.

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