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July 13, 2011
he campaign group, Human Rights Watch, has accused rebels in Libya of looting, arson and the abuse of civilians. Observers from the New York-based group say they have witnessed some incidents themselves, and have interviewed witnesses to others in territory recently seized by rebels. A rebel spokesman talking to reporters in Brussels has denied the allegations.
VIDEO LINK – Libyan rebels behead Libyan Soldier – VIDEO LINK
Accusations of abuse by both sides have circulated since the rebellion against Col Muammar Gaddafi began in February. The latest allegations focus on four towns seized by rebels in the west of the country in the last month: al-Awaniya, Rayayinah, Zawiyat al-Bagul and al-Qawalish. “The rebel conduct was disturbing,” said Fred Abrahams, a special adviser to Human Rights Watch (HRW). “We documented fairly widespread looting of homes and shops, the burning of some homes of suspected Gaddafi supporters and – most disturbingly – the vandalisation of three medical clinics [and] local small hospitals, including the theft of some of the medical equipment.”
He said the Libyan government had committed more serious crimes, but that did not excuse the behaviour of the rebels. “Our aim is to hold all combatants, all militaries – whether they’re organised and states and governments or rebels groups – to the same standards, and it’s very much also a warning shot across the bow, because of these other areas they are approaching. We’re deeply worried about how they might behave and treat civilians in those areas.”
VIDEO LINK – Libyan Protestors and Rebels hang and behead soldier – VIDEO LINK
July 13, 2011
UPDATE: On July 19, 2011, the opposition’s Military Council in western Libya responded to Human Rights Watch’s allegations of abuse by rebel fighters. The Council condemned the abuses, and committed itself to investigate them and respect the laws of war. (Zintan, Libya) – Rebel forces in Libya should protect civilians and civilian property in areas they control, Human Rights Watch said today. The rebel forces should hold accountable anyone from their ranks responsible for looting, arson, and abuse of civilians in recently captured towns in western Libya, Human Rights Watch said. In four towns captured by rebels in the Nafusa Mountains over the past month, rebel fighters and supporters have damaged property, burned some homes, looted from hospitals, homes, and shops, and beaten some individuals alleged to have supported government forces, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch witnessed some of these acts, interviewed witnesses to others, and spoke with a rebel commander about the abuses. “Opposition leaders should halt and punish all rebel abuses” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The rebel authorities have a duty to protect civilians and their property, especially hospitals, and discipline anyone responsible for looting or other abuse.” Rebel forces seized control of al-Awaniya, Rayayinah, and Zawiyat al-Bagul in mid-June 2011, ousting government forces that had used the towns as a base for attacks against rebel-held territory – some of them indiscriminate attacks on civilian-inhabited areas. Rebel forces captured al-Qawalish on July 6. In all four towns, some residents had left when government forces first arrived to fight the rebels in April and May. In all the towns but Rayayinah, most of the remaining residents fled when government forces withdrew, apparently fearing reprisals from rebel forces.
VIDEO LINK - Libyan Rebels Force Libyan Soldiers to Cannibalize - VIDEO LINK
Al-Awaniya and Zawiyat al-Bagul are home to members of the Mesheshiya tribe, known for its loyalty to the Libyan government and Muammar Gaddafi. The rebel military commander in the Nafusa Mountains, Col. El-Moktar Firnana, admitted that some abuses had taken place after rebels captured the towns, but said such attacks violated orders issued to the rebel forces not to attack civilians or damage civilian property. He claimed that some people had been punished, but did not say how many people or for what offenses. “If we hadn’t issued directives, people would have burned these towns down to the ground,” he told Human Rights Watch. In al-Qawalish on July 7, Human Rights Watch saw people with rebel t-shirts and hats, some of them armed, loading items looted from stores onto trucks with rebel markings. Five houses, which Human Rights Watch had seen intact the day before when government forces withdrew, were on fire. Three more houses and one shop were on fire during visits on July 10 and 11, and at least six other houses appeared to have been newly burned.
Al-Awaniya and Zawiyat al-Bagul appeared empty of residents during several visits by Human Rights Watch between July 2 and 10. Houses on three streets in al-Awaniya and two streets in Zawiyat al-Bagul that Human Rights Watch inspected had been ransacked. The stores along the main streets in both towns had been broken into and looted. Local residents told Human Rights Watch that the Libyan government had brought members of the Mesheshiya tribe to al-Awaniya from other towns approximately 30 years ago, a resettlement that continues to cause tension with neighboring towns. In Rayayinah, one resident who stayed said that rebels had looted medical equipment from the polyclinic after taking the town. Human Rights Watch visited the facility on July 2 and saw vandalized rooms, broken windows and doors, and evidence of missing medical equipment, including an x-ray machine and possibly an electrocardiogram machine. The hospital in al-Awaniya, inspected by Human Rights Watch on July 3, was in a similar condition, with missing equipment, broken windows, and damaged furniture.
A medic sympathetic to the rebels told Human Rights Watch that he had participated in the looting of the al-Awaniya hospital after rebels took the town: [The al-Awaniya Hospital] was very well-equipped, and we basically took everything. It was well equipped for Gaddafi troops. [Rebels] said that Zintan would be the central hospital for the region…. I heard that the equipment from [the] Rayayinah [polyclinic] went to Zintan too. Human Rights Watch visited the Zawiyat al-Bagul medical clinic on July 3. It had also been attacked and looted by vandals. The removal of the medical equipment and damage to the facilities would hinder the return of the civilian population to those towns, Human Rights Watch said. Residents of Rayayinah told Human Rights Watch that between 300 and 400 people stayed in the town when the rebels arrived, including in the western part, which government forces had used to shell rebel-held Zintan. One of the residents told Human Rights Watch that he saw the injuries of three people from the western part of town who claimed to have been beaten by rebels, and one person who said rebels had shot him in the foot:
Their wrists were tied with dusty wire and they had been beaten. I saw three cases but there are more than that. One lost two toes when a fighter from Zintan shot his foot. I saw a lot of bruises on the face, hands, everywhere. Most of them have left now. Some of the damage in Rayayinah was also caused by government forces during their presence in the town. Mohamed el-Mizoughi, a local resident, told Human Rights Watch that government soldiers had punished rebel supporters by arresting them, burning down their houses, and looting their stores. The rebel commander, Colonel Firnana, explained the rebel violations as a consequence of the victims’ alleged support for government forces. “People who stayed in the towns were working with the army,” he said. “Houses that were robbed and broken into were ones that the army had used, including for ammunition storage.” He continued, “Those people who were beaten were working for Gaddafi’s brigades.” It was dangerous for residents of the four captured towns to return because of anger in the rebel-held towns that government forces had attacked, Colonel Firnana said.
VIDEO LINK - Libyan Rebels Torture Small Child by Sticking a Pole Through His Body – VIDEO LINK
“Opposition forces have an obligation to protect civilians and their property in the areas they control so people feel they can return home safely and rebuild their lives,” Stork said. Two other towns in rebel-held territory in the Nafusa Mountains, el-Harabah and Tamzin, are known to include Gaddafi supporters, but they have managed to maintain relations with both the Libyan government and the rebels. These towns have not been used by government forces since the February uprising began. Opposition fighters in the Nafusa Mountains have detained roughly 200 government fighters over the past month. Human Rights Watch had unrestricted access to detention facilities in Zintan, Yafran, and Kikla. Some detainees complained of physical abuse at the time of capture, but said that conditions since then had been adequate. Human Rights Watch has documented repeated indiscriminate attacks by government forces on civilian areas in the Nafusa Mountains over the past two months, as well as the use of landmines. In the town of Yafran, government forces unlawfully occupied a hospital for six weeks. “Opposition forces say they are committed to human rights, but the looting, arson, and abuse of civilians in captured towns are worrying,” Stork said. “This raises concerns about how civilians will be treated if rebels capture other towns where the government has support.”
July 29, 2011
The war on Libya has not gone well. Kim Sengupta’s report on Wednesday detailed this starkly: “Fresh diplomatic efforts are under way to try to end Libya’s bloody civil war, with the UN special envoy flying to Tripoli to hold talks after Britain followed France in accepting that Muammar Gaddafi cannot be bombed into exile. The change of stance by the two most active countries in the international coalition is an acceptance of realities on the ground. Despite more than four months of sustained air strikes by Nato, the rebels have failed to secure any military advantage. Colonel Gaddafi has survived what observers perceive as attempts to eliminate him and, despite the defection of a number of senior commanders, there is no sign that he will be dethroned in a palace coup. The regime controls around 20% more territory than it did in the immediate aftermath of the uprising on 17 February.”
If the Gaddafi regime is now more in control of Libya than before, then this completely undermines the simplistic view put about by the supporters of war – and unfortunately by some elements of the resistance – that the situation was simply one of a hated tyrant hanging on through mercenary violence. Of course, he uses whatever resources he has at his disposal, but a) it would seem that the involvement of imperialism has driven some Libyans back into the Gaddafi camp, as it’s unlikely he would maintain control without some degree of support, and b) we know that rebellious sectors started to go back to Gaddafi within mere weeks of the revolt taking off, meaning in part that his resources of legitimising his regime were not exhausted even before the US-led intervention. Despite the defections, he has consolidated his regime in a way that would have seemed improbable in the early weeks of revolt.
It’s important to bear in mind what this means. Both Ben Ali and Mubarak had the support of the US and its major allies – especially Mubarak. They had considerable resources for repression, and there was financial aid being channelled to them, talks aimed at offering reforms to the opposition … and in the end they proved too brittle, too narrowly based, to stay in power. The state apparatus began to fragment and decompose. The protests kept spreading, and withstood the bloodshed. Nothing they could offer or threaten was sufficient. Gaddafi, on the other hand, has hung on in the face of not only a lack of support from his former imperialist allies, but active political, diplomatic and military opposition. That he did so to a considerable extent through sheer military superiority doesn’t mean that the regime hasn’t a real social basis. Perhaps as important has been the weaknesses of the rebellion. I argued that the chief problem facing the revolt was that it had taken off before any civil society infrastructure had been built up to sustain the opposition. This meant that unrepresentative former regime elements were well placed to step into the fray and take effective control. As a result of the defeats they faced, those arguing for an alliance with Nato grew stronger and gained more control.
Civilian casualties have raised serious misgivings about NATO intervention in Libya, even among supporters of the ongoing aerial campaign. And while the international community is taking sides in the conflict, it is the Libyan people who suffer most. Salma and her family escaped from the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi to hide in a refugee camp in the west of the country when life in their native city turned into a nightmare. “It’s not safe there anymore. It’s become dangerous. And that’s not only because of explosions and gunshots. One day, people from the government in Benghazi – you call them rebels, we call them terrorists – came to me and told me, ‘we have to arrest your daughter, because we know that she supports Gaddafi,” Salma told RT. The escape has been long and hard for the women and their family, says Moona, another refugee.
“I had to hide for some time from them, as they’ve been searching for me. Then we knew that there was a bus coming from Benghazi to Tunisia, the bus with the rebels, for their purposes. We took that bus, with our faces covered, and everybody was against Gaddafi there. We told them that we are also against and they let us in. We kept silent till we went to Egypt and from there via Tunisia we were sent here,” she recalled. Salma’s brother Sabri, a surgeon, has also fled the city. He says they have made three attempts on his life, but he only left when he saw a killing. “They took him from the ICU and killed him in front of the ICU and hanged his body on the wall of the hospital,” he said, describing what happened to one of the patients. The doctor says the people from the National Transitional Council were behind it – the rebels’ official political body formed after the revolution in Libya started in mid-February. Its members are recognized by many countries throughout the world as the only legitimate representatives of Libya.
“There is no opinion other than their opinion. You are either with them or against them. They talk about freedom and democracy but there is no freedom and democracy. They just want the power,” doctor Sabri explains. The refugees in the camp say they now finally feel safe. But it is not that safe from this side of the frontline either. People gathered at a cemetery in Sabratha, the western region of Tripoli, to bury those killed in what the Libyan government says was a NATO airstrike. A bomb apparently landed on a private compound, flattened it and killed 15 people, including three kids. “We have been calling for peace and negotiation for months and no one wants to listen to us. Now we have to pay a very heavy price of civilian casualties and also military casualties. I think the time has come for the world to understand that this conflict has to come to an end immediately,” says Moussa Ibrahim, a spokesman for the Libyan government. But it is very unlikely to happen anytime soon. The newly dug ground in the cemetery is still fresh, while NATO has already claimed that the operation to “protect civilians” must go on.
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A group of six westerners are clearly visible in the report by al-Jazeera from Dafniya, described as the westernmost point of the rebel lines west of the town of Misrata. Five of them are armed and wear informal sand-coloured clothes, peaked caps and cotton Arab scarves. The sixth, apparently most senior of the group, carries no visible weapon and wears a pink, short-sleeved shirt. It is possible he is an intelligence officer. The group is seen talking to rebels and then quickly leaving the scene on being spotted by the al-Jazeera television crew.
The reporter, Tony Birtley, a veteran war correspondent, said: “Here a group of armed foreigners, possibly British, are seen liaising with the fighters. It could be to facilitate forthcoming helicopter attacks.” In the report, first broadcast on Sunday, Birtley did not say why he thought the soldiers were British. There have been numerous reports in the British press that SAS soldiers are acting as spotters in Libya to help Nato warplanes target pro-Gaddafi forces. In March six special forces soldiers and two MI6 officers were detained by opposition fighters when they landed on an abortive mission to meet rebel leaders in Benghazi, in an embarrassing episode for the SAS. The group were withdrawn soon afterwards and a new “liaison team” was sent in their place.
April 21, 2011
The graves outside the shrine are packed tightly together, thick stripes of cement with small concrete blocks poking out of the earth at either end. Some of the graves are about six feet apart, like those marking the remains of Khalid Abushahma, the first protester to be shot dead by Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in this Libyan port city on 20 February, and of Ali al-Hadi, who died just two days ago. Other graves barely span two feet. Ibrahim Omran, a baby buried on 7 April. Amina Abdullah, a small girl, two weeks before. Sanad Aduraat, a toddler killed by a bullet on 6 March. Carved into the cement next to Aduraat’s name, next to all the names, is the word al-shaheed, meaning martyr.
“Gaddafi is the reason for all this,” said Abdullah Almohandis, an old man in a brown hooded cloak who oversees the cemetery. Heavy explosions boomed in the distance, as they do here for many hours of each day and night. Almohandis held his open hands to the sky, shaking with rage. The war in Misrata is now two months old. The graveyards are filling up and the hospitals are overflowing. In their attempt to end the uprising, Gaddafi’s forces have killed at least 1,000 people.
Around 90% are civilians who have died because of indiscriminate shelling or shooting, doctors here say. Fighting has been so heavy that parts of the city centre are now almost completely destroyed. Buildings, homes and mosques are pockmarked with bullet holes. Walls have been completely blown away, or are blackened by fire. Entire suburbs near the front lines are empty of families, who have crammed into other parts of the city, closer to the sea. Communications have been completely cut. Burnt-out cars and tanks litter the streets, alongside effigies of the dictator who has ruled Libya for 42 years.
The resistance from the rebels – from all the people in Misrata – seems remarkable given their limited armoury and experience. That they have managed to keep Gaddafi’s forces to one side of the city seems a miracle, or at least a masterclass in guerrilla warfare. But this is a siege, and while the rebels can defend their lines, they do not have the means to fight their way out, or to send their families to safety. And despite significant losses, Gaddafi remains determined to fight his way in.
The cost is huge. Besides the dead, more than 3,000 people in this city have been injured since the conflict began. Many have been hit by shrapnel from indiscriminate shelling by Gaddafi’s forces. Others have been picked off by snipers, including Mohamed Hassan, 10, who was hit in the head when he opened his front door last Saturday. He now lies in Misrata’s hospital, screaming for his father and uncle or jabbering incomprehensibly. His mother, Zeinab, touches his forehead. Her tears have run dry. She tries to speak but then shakes her head and looks down.
Nobody here in Libya’s third largest city expected a war. A few dozen people went out to protest on 17 February, in sympathy with people in Benghazi, where the main uprising began. Police arrested the protesters, sparking bigger demonstrations. Then security forces opened fire. About 70 people were killed in a matter of days. The city rose up in anger. “We kicked out all of Gaddafi’s people, who fled to Tripoli,” said Mohamed Karwad, a 23-year-old graphic designer, who was one of the first protesters to be arrested. “At that time we had nothing but rocks and Molotov cocktails.” When Gaddafi’s forces returned two weeks later it was with tanks and armoured vehicles.
The rebels still had few proper weapons, but they had taken measures to prevent the city from falling. They blocked the main streets with shipping containers full of sand and metal, preventing the tanks from passing though. They laid down blankets soaked in diesel that became caught in the tanks’ tracks. A Molotov cocktail heaved from a sidestreet would then set the tank alight. Mosques played recordings of “God is Great” over and over to inspire the rebel fighters, infuriating Gaddafi’s forces. Many mosques have since been hit by shells.
April 18, 2011
The EU has drawn up a “concept of operations” for the deployment of military forces in Libya, but needs UN approval for what would be the riskiest and most controversial mission undertaken by Brussels. The armed forces, numbering no more than 1,000, would be deployed to secure the delivery of aid supplies, would not be engaged in a combat role but would be authorised to fight if they or their humanitarian wards were threatened. “It would be to secure sea and land corridors inside the country,” said an EU official.
The decision to prepare the mission, dubbed Eufor Libya, was taken by the 27 governments at the beginning of April. In recent days, diplomats from the member states have signed a 61-page document on the concept of operations, which rehearses various scenarios for the mission in and around Libya, such as securing port areas, aid delivery corridors, loading and unloading ships, providing naval escorts, and discussing the military assets that would be required. The planning has taken place inside the office of Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign and security policy chief. Officials are working on an “A-plan”, the operational instructions that would specify the size of the force, its equipment and makeup, and the rules of engagement.
Diplomats and officials said this would not be finalised unless a request for an EU military mission came from the UN body the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha). Valerie Amos, the head of Ocha, has privately told EU leaders she is reluctant to make the request and wants to explore all civilian options for the aid operation before seeking military help. Amos said on Monday the Libyan government has promised the UN access to the besieged rebel city of Misrata, although they had not guaranteed a ceasefire during such a mission.
She was in talks with the Libyan prime minister in Tripoli on Sunday and said she would send a team to the city of 300,000 as quickly as possible, adding that she was “deeply concerned” about the safety of civilians. The EU has established an operations headquarters in Rome under the command of an Italian rear-admiral as part of its plan for a military deployment to Libya. Ashton has written to Ban Ki Moon, the UN secretary-general, offering the military assets, but the overture has been declined.
April 18, 2011
Ajdabiya, LIBYA – Rebel fighters in eastern Libya fought off an attack by government troops in the town of Ajdabiya on Sunday, a day after retreating from a key oil facility around 100 kilometres farther west. Forces loyal to longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi advanced on Ajdabiya under a heavy artillery barrage in the morning and fought at close range with rebels on the town’s southern outskirts before a counterattack forced them back, witnesses said. On Saturday, with the help of NATO air strikes along the main coastal road, rebels reached the outskirts of Brega, the site of a major oil and petrochemical port west of Ajdabiya.
But a sandstorm that began overnight hampered air cover, and by Sunday morning rebels had retreated. Dozens of civilian vehicles, many of them carrying families, fled Ajdabiya throughout the morning, and some rebels also appeared to join the withdrawal. Two fighters were injured in the battle, suffering superficial shrapnel wounds during the bombardment, but none were seriously injured or killed, doctors at Ajdabiya Hospital said. In response to the advance by Gaddafi’s forces, the opposition Transitional National Council issued orders that casualties should no longer go to Ajdabiya Hospital and should instead be sent directly to Benghazi, the seat of the rebel government around 160 kilometres to the north, the doctors said.
Some of the wounded already at the hospital were also evacuated. At least five ambulances with flashing lights and sirens blaring could be seen driving north out of Ajdabiya before noon. Dozens of explosions from incoming artillery fire could be heard south of the town, and fighters said there were at least 100 blasts throughout the morning. The rebels responded with a barrage of Grad rockets, their flames streaming upward against the backdrop of a sky darkened by the sandstorm, which often reduced visibility to just a few hundred metres and gave Gaddafi’s troops cover to advance rapidly on Ajdabiya.
The bombardment from regime forces hit near the town’s large, green western gate – a landmark and rallying point for rebel forces – but shells also landed on residential areas, said Muhammad Barwuin, a rebel fighter. No civilians were reported to have been hurt in the attack. Just 10 days ago, women and children had begun to return to Ajdabiya, and businesses started to reopen. But on Sunday, the town, which has traded hands multiple times in the months-long conflict, was deserted, and only fighters walked its shattered streets. Shortly after noon, more than 30 vehicles carrying rebel reinforcements streamed into Ajdabiya, carrying a by-now familiar assortment of jury-rigged weaponry: machine guns, recoilless rifles, anti-aircraft batteries, and dismounted helicopter rocket pods, all welded to the back of pick-up trucks.
After the bombardment lifted, small arms fire echoed from deeper inside the town, and the government troops involved in the attack apparently withdrew. Rebels took up defensive positions around Ajdabiya and erected roadblocks made of rocks and metal sheets at most major intersections. At the roundabout connecting two main roads, Tripoli and Bridge streets, rebels standing on the back of pickups stared attentively down the barrels of their machine guns, and an array of mounted rocket launchers pointed west.
April 18, 2011
The head of the Nato operation in Libya, Canada’s Lt Gen Charles Bouchard, says Nato has had “some tremendous successes” during the operation. “If it wasn’t for the effort of Nato right now, the situation would be much worse, and the deaths would be in the thousands,” Lt Gen Bouchard told the BBC World Service. He said civilians trapped in the rebel-held town of Misrata were “on everybody’s horizon”, but that Nato was “also mindful of the potential of collateral damage which would just make this situation even worse”. “This is a government and a regime that’s opted to use the tops of hospitals, of mosques, parking their tanks beside schools and hiding themselves behind men and women to makes sure that we do not attack them,” the commander told the BBC. “So when we talk about action, one has to be mindful of all these factors.”
April 15, 2011
President Obama today signals the return of America to the forefront of the international effort in Libya, writing a joint article with David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy in which the three leaders commit their countries to pursue military action until Colonel Gaddafi has been removed. In the joint article, Obama reverses America’s earlier cautious approach to the conflict – which saw the US hand control to Nato and withdraw fighter planes just days after the intervention began – and signs up his country to the more muscular intervention of his European colleagues. Obama’s new interest could transform the efforts of the international community after three days of talks in the Gulf state of Qatar in effect came to nothing.
Writing in Washington Post, the Times and Le Figaro (in French), the three leaders say the world would have committed an “unconscionable betrayal” if the Libyan leader is left in place, putting rebels who have been fighting against the Gaddafi regime at the mercy of his government. If left, Libya risks becoming a failed state, they write. Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron call on Gaddafi to “go and go for good”, rejecting demands for an immediate ceasefire and a negotiated exit for the Libyan dictator. Diplomats are considering how the language of the United Nations mandate can accommodate a more active role on the ground.
Now it IS regime change: Cameron, Obama and Sarkozy promise to keep bombing Libya until Gaddafi is gone
April 15, 2011
David Cameron, Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy upped the stakes in the Libya conflict last night as they vowed to fight on until Colonel Gaddafi is ousted. In a joint article, the British, American and French leaders warned it would be an ‘unconscionable betrayal’ were Nato to stop bombing with the dictator still in power. Gaddafi must ‘go and go for good’ before rebuilding of the country could begin, they said, rejecting calls for an immediate ceasefire.
However the highly unusual joint statement did little to paper over behind-the-scenes bickering over how to advance the military mission. It will also fuel the concerns of critics who say the aims of the conflict are becoming dangerously blurred. The commitment to maintain operations until Gaddafi leaves power is effectively open-ended.
Warplanes were again heard over Tripoli last night, accompanied by air raid sirens and loud explosions. At the same time a figure resembling Gaddafi was seen driving through the streets in a heavily protected motorcade, standing up through the sunroof of a vehicle, punching the air. As the military operation approaches the end of its first month there is little sign of a breakthrough on the ground, where rebels appear unable to make a decisive move against the government’s forces. American and EU allies yesterday rejected British demands for more warplanes to take on Gaddafi – as rebels warned failure to act would lead to a slaughter of innocents.
April 15, 2011
Libyan government forces fired a hail of rockets into the besieged city of Misurata for the second day in a row, killing at least eight people, a local doctor told Al Jazeera. He said seven other civilians, including children and older people, were wounded in the attacks on Friday. Residents told Al Jazeera around 120 rockets pounded the city. Gaddafi’s forces on Friday also opened fire on rebels on the western edge of Ajdabiyah, killing one, rebel fighters said.
A rebel manning an anti-aircraft gun was shot dead and two others were wounded in the attack one kilometre from the western gate of Ajdabiyah, the last major town before the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. “They are in vehicles and they are spread out on foot in the desert. It is very hard to track them,” Mansour Rachid, a rebel fighter, told Reuters. “They opened fire on us. We have two wounded and one guy was killed.” The latest attacks come a day after rebels warned of an impending “massacre” in Misurata by troops loyal to Gaddafi if NATO doesn’t neutralise Libyan leader’s forces.
Gaddafi’s forces launched a heavy attack on the coastal city on Thursday, with dozens of Grad-type rockets hitting the city and killing more than 20 people, a rebel spokesman said. Misurata, Libya’s third-biggest city, has been the scene of major fighting between rebels and Gaddafi’s forces for several weeks. “They fired Grads at a residential area called Kasr Ahmad near the port this morning. They fired at least 80 rockets on that area,” Abdelbasset Abu Mzereiq told Reuters by telephone on Thursday.
He later clarified that those killed had been civilians and not rebel fighters as earlier understood. The death toll from the 90 minute artillery barrage was likely to rise, the spokesman added. “They keep killing civilians. Yesterday we lost five civilians in the shelling and 37 were wounded.” Gaddafi loyalists were firing shells on Tripoli Street, a thoroughfare which cuts to the city centre from the western outskirts, witnesses told Al Jazeera.
April 10, 2011
Leaders of five African countries arrived in Tripoli on Sunday to meet Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in an attempt to broker a ceasefire and a political resolution to the deadlocked two-month-old conflict. The African Union delegation, led by the South African president, Jacob Zuma, may then fly on to Benghazi, the heartland of the rebels, to press for a diplomatic settlement. The initiative came as Nato air strikes once again pulled the rebels back from the brink of a significant defeat by stalling a government assault on the strategic town of Ajdabiya, the gateway to the revolutionaries’ de facto capital, Benghazi. Air strikes destroyed a total of 25 tanks around Ajdabiya and the besieged western city of Misrata.
Nato gave permission for the African leaders’ planes to enter Libyan airspace. The aircraft were the first to land at Tripoli’s Mitiga airport since the international coalition imposed a no-fly zone over the country more than two weeks ago. Several hundred Libyan civilians and military personnel gathered to greet the delegation with an eclectic mix of tribal singing and dancing, bagpipes, brass band and the ubiquitous loyalist chant of “Allah, Muammar, Libya wa bas [that's all we need]“. Zuma, who arrived aboard a South African air force plane, made no comment before leaving in an armoured convoy. Earlier, a statement from the African Union delegation said its objective was to bring military operations in Libya to an end and to mediate between the regime and the opposition on a political resolution.
“We hope that mediation will lead to a constructive dialogue for a political settlement of the crisis based on the aspirations of the Libyan people,” said the Mauritanian president, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. The other members of the team are the presidents of Congo-Brazzaville and Mali and the Ugandan foriegn minister. The African Union initiative follows a proposal last week by the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for a three-point plan covering a ceasefire, political negotiations and a humanitarian corridor. However, opposition forces insist they will not consider any political deal that involves Gaddafi or members of his family retaining power. Proposals put forward by the regime so far have included Gaddafi or one of his sons overseeing political change in Libya. It is far from clear how this gap could be bridged. Nato said its forces destroyed 11 tanks around Ajdabiya and 14 tanks on the outskirts of Misrata, the sole rebel-dominated town in the west of the country, host to fierce fighting for about six weeks.
“The situation in Ajdabiya and Misrata in particular is desperate for those Libyans who are being brutally shelled by the [Gaddafi] regime,” said Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, the Canadian commander of Nato’s Libya operations. A Red Cross ship docked in Misrata at the weekend, bringing medical supplies to civilians in the besieged port city, about 100 miles from Tripoli. The Libyan government has refused to take journalists based in the capital into Misrata, citing safety reasons, but civilians and doctors by phone have described coming under attack from shelling and sniper fire. Many of the victims are reported to be children. Last week, Nato said Misrata was its “number one priority”.
April 7, 2011
Rebels in eastern Libya say their forces have been mistakenly hit in a Nato air raid. Doctors in Ajdabiya told the BBC at least 13 rebel fighters had been killed by the strike on a rebel tank position. The BBC’s Wyre Davies reports chaotic scenes on the outskirts of Ajdabiya, with rebel forces in retreat reporting being hit by Nato air strikes. It is the third such incident in recent days involving international forces deployed to protect Libyan civilians. One rebel commander told the BBC he saw at least four missiles land among rebel fighters.
Many people have been killed and many more have been injured, he said. Civilians are reported to be fleeing Ajdabiya in their thousands, according to the latest wire reports, after rumours spread that pro-Gaddafi forces were preparing to attack the city. The rebels had been taking a group of tanks, armoured vehicles and rocket launchers near the front line between the towns of Ajdabiya and Brega in more than 30 transporters. Whether or not a Nato pilot mistook all of that heavy armour for pro-Gaddafi weaponry remains unclear.
Following the apparent Nato attack, ambulances were seen heading in the opposite direction, towards the hospital in Ajdabiya. There is considerable anger among rebel troops after what appears to have been a terrible mistake. They are asking why rebel units were hit, when they could be seen clearly advancing in a westerly direction towards the front line. “It is unbelievable,” said one Benghazi resident. “Nato, with all the equipment they have – is this the second mistake? Is it really a mistake or something arranged secretly?”
Another said: “The allies and the UN Security Council must allow us to be armed. We don’t want anything, just to be armed to defend ourselves against this dictator and fascist.” Rebel forces in the area began retreating on Wednesday after heavy bombardment from government forces. They had been calling for more Nato air strikes in recent days.
Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has proposed a roadmap for peace in Libya, urging forces aligned with Muammar Gaddafi to withdraw from besieged cities, and calling for the establishment of humanitarian aid corridors and comprehensive democratic change. Erdogan said the measures would be discussed at a meeting by a group set up to guide the international intervention in Libya in Qatar next week. Turkey has held talks this week with envoys from Gaddafi’s government and representatives of the Libyan opposition.
Erdogan also assured the opposition that Turkey supports their demands, following recent protests in Libya against Turkey by some opposition members. Turkey initially balked at the idea of military action in Libya, but is now taking part in the enforcement of a no-fly zone to shield civilians. It has also volunteered to lead humanitarian aid efforts. Britain’s Foreign Office said the contact group that will meet in Qatar – which includes European powers, US allies in the Middle East and a number of international organisations – will meet in Doha on Wednesday.
The ministry could not confirm precisely who has been invited to attend. British government officials said the US would be represented, and that the Arab League is also expected to be at the talks. Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague, said last week that he planned to travel to the talks alongside about a dozen other Arab, European and international officials. The group was established during a summit in London last week to act as the political guide to the Nato-led military operation and humanitarian assistance mission in Libya.
April 7, 2011
Thirteen rebels have been killed in a NATO air strike on the Libyan city of Brega which went terribly wrong. Instead of targeting pro-Gaddafi forces, fighter jets honed in on the front line of militamen who have been trying to topple the regime. The rebels claim the attack sparked a retreat from the outskirts of the oil port of Brega, a key flashpoint in the struggle to wrestle the country from Gaddafi’s hands. Fighters fleeing back toward rebel-held Ajdabiya in eastern Libya said they saw several of their tanks destroyed by Nato bombing runs. Dozens of vehicles were seen racing from the front lines today, including ambulances and rebel vehicles outfitted with weapons.
‘It was a NATO air strike on us. We were near our vehicles near Brega,’ wounded fighter Younes Jumaa said from his stretcher at a hospital. The retreat came after rebel leaders complained that Nato air strikes were carried out too slowly to disrupt forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi. A Nato official in Brussels says the alliance will look into the rebel claims but he had no immediate information. The rebels have been fighting to wrest control of Brega from forces loyal to Gaddafi for a week in a see-saw battle along the Mediterranean coast. Bloodstained stretchers were brought out of the hospital in Ajdabiyah, gateway to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in the east.
Rebel spokesmen also told Reuters that Gaddafi forces killed five people and wounded 25 in an artillery bombardment of the isolated western city of Misrata yesterday. The barrage forced the temporary closing of Misrata’s port, a vital lifeline for supplies to besieged civilians, the spokesmen said. They added that NATO air strikes hit pro-Gaddafi positions around Misrata. Misrata, Libya’s third city, rose up with other towns against Gaddafi in mid-February, and has been under siege for weeks, after a violent crackdown put an end to most protests elsewhere in the west of the country.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern about deteriorating conditions for civilians in Misrata and Zintan in the west, and Brega in the east. He said the situation in Misrata was particularly grave and called for an immediate end to all attacks against civilians. The civil war has cut oil output in the major supplier by 80 percent, a senior government official said on Thursday, as rebels and Gaddafi’s forces traded charges over who had attacked oil fields vital to both sides.
April 5, 2011
The first export of oil from rebel-held areas of eastern Libya for almost three weeks is due to begin later. Libya’s opposition groups are making plans to load a tanker believed to have now docked at a terminal near Tobruk. It comes as Nato air strikes were reported against pro-Gaddafi forces and rebels gathered near the town of Brega. Libya’s government has remained defiant, with an envoy who is visiting Europe insisting that Col Muammar Gaddafi will not step down.
Meanwhile Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of Col Gaddafi, has told the BBC that Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa did not betray Libya by leaving for the UK. He told the BBC’s world affairs editor John Simpson that Mr Koussa had travelled to Britain for health reasons and was being pressured into making allegations about Libya’s government in an effort to secure immunity from prosecution. The Reuters news agency reported that the tanker had arrived at the Marsa el-Hariga export terminal near the town of Tobruk.
There were unconfirmed reports that the tanker en route to Libya was the Liberia-flagged Equator vessel, owned by Greece-based Dynacom Management. Lloyd’s List, the shipping news and data provider, says that some 1 million barrels of oil are expected to be loaded on to the tanker – possibly bound for Qatar. The small Gulf state has recognised Libya’s rebels as the country’s legitimate government and has agreed to market oil from rebel areas. Libya is Africa’s third largest oil producer, but exports have dried up since the anti-Gaddafi uprising began some two months ago.
Libya had been exporting 1.6m barrels a day. Michelle Wiese Bockmann, of Lloyd’s List, told the BBC: “The significance is not only that this is the first shipment in 18 days, but it is also a signal that Libya is open to international trade and shipping. It will send a message to other tanker owners.” The high quality crude was worth about $100m (£62m) at current prices, she said. The oil is then most likely to be marketed to countries such as Italy, which has previously been an important buyer of Libya’s output, she added.
Italy’s government has also openly backed the rebel administration. On Monday, European Union officials clarified legal advice on sanctions, saying that oil exports were allowed as long as revenues did not find their way to the Gaddafi government or state oil company. The collapse of exports from Libya has helped drive up oil prices, which on Monday hit a two-and-a-half year high. Brent crude rose $2.36 to $121.06, after earlier reaching $121.29. US light, sweet crude rose 53 cents to $108.47, the highest close since September 2008.
April 5, 2011
While David Cameron praises British pilots and enthusiastically announces an increase in the number of RAF Tornado aircraft deployed against Libya, British intelligence officers are operating rather more discreetly on the ground. Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI6, is in the thick of it and the Libyan conflict should be right up its street. The Libyan desert may have been the birthplace of the SAS during the second world war when MI6′s main playground was the deserts of Arabia further east. But in recent years their officers have got to know the deserts of north Africa, and of Libya in particular.
Their role should be key now, as the coalition’s military operation, which the US says it is abandoning, appears to have run its course. While Cameron is gung-ho for the fight, defence chiefs and commanders, in Washington as well as London, are increasingly concerned about a stalemate. It is time for intelligence agencies to prove their worth. CIA and MI6 officers are active in Libya, doing what they are trained to do – encouraging influential people to come over, to defect.
Both agencies have a special relationship with Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya. They monitored it closely when Gaddafi was funding and supplying terrorists in western Europe, including the IRA. Their senior officers, Sir Mark Allen of MI6, Stephen Kappes of the CIA, were deeply involved in talks with Tripoli over compensation for the victims of Libyan-sponsored terrorism, including Lockerbie. In 2003, they celebrated months of talks leading to Gaddafi’s decision to give up weapons of mass destruction with a long lunch at the Travellers Club in Pall Mall.
April 5, 2011
BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – Western powers have destroyed nearly a third of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s military since launching air strikes last month but NATO said it was forced to change bombing tactics because of human shields. The besieged city of Misrata, the only big population center in western Libya where a revolt against Gaddafi has not been crushed and which faces army tanks and snipers, is now the priority for NATO air strikes. But Libyan rebels on the battlefield complained about what they see as a dropping off in air support and a spokesman in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi said NATO “disappointed us” with its slow response that allowed Gaddafi forces to kill people.
“Either NATO does its work properly or we will ask the Security Council to suspend its work,” said Abdel Fattah Younes, head of the rebel forces. “NATO is moving very slowly, allowing Gaddafi forces to advance,” he told reporters. “NATO has become our problem,” he said, adding that NATO inaction was allowing the army to advance and letting them kill the people of Misrata “every day.” As the row erupted over the military campaign, the International Criminal Court said on Tuesday it had evidence Gaddafi’s government had developed plans to crush protests by killing civilians even before the uprising in Libya broke out.
“We have evidence that after the Tunisia and Egypt conflicts in January, people in the regime were planning how to control demonstrations inside Libya,” court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told Reuters in The Hague. “The planning at the beginning was to use tear gas and (if that failed to work) …, shooting,” said Moreno-Ocampo who is investigating Gaddafi, his sons and close aides and who will be requesting arrest warrants in the coming weeks. Protests against the government that began on February 15 swiftly descended into civil war after Gaddafi forces opened fire on demonstrators. He then crushed uprisings in Libya’s west, leaving the east and Misrata in rebel hands.
NATO-led air power is now holding the balance in Libya, preventing Gaddafi forces from overrunning the revolt in the North African desert state but unable for now to hand the rebels outright victory with a stalemate on the desert battlefield. NATO took command of operations in Libya from a coalition led by the United States, Britain and France on March 31 and is enforcing a no-fly zone ordered by the United Nations and launching air strikes on Gaddafi forces to protect civilians. “The assessment is that we have taken out 30 percent of the military capacity of Gaddafi,” Brigadier General Mark van Uhm, a senior NATO staff officer, said in Brussels. Over the last day, air strikes around Misrata hit Gaddafi’s tanks, air defense systems and other armored vehicles. Near Brega in the east, where intense fighting raged for a sixth day on Tuesday, NATO aircraft struck a rocket launcher.
Answering earlier criticism by insurgents that air power became less effective with the alliance in control, NATO officials said the presence in Libyan skies was undiminished. But Van Uhm said Gaddafi was using civilians as human shields and hiding his armor in populated areas, curbing NATO’s ability to hit targets. “The operational tempo remains, but we have seen a change of tactics (from Gaddafi),” he said. “When human beings are used as shields we don’t engage.” There were other tactical changes. “They are using more and more trucks and light vehicles … and they are keeping more heavy equipment like armored vehicles (hidden),” said Van Uhm, who added that the end result was that Gaddafi was prevented from using heavy armor. Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict in the oil producing nation have failed to make progress with the government side offering concessions, but insisting Gaddafi stay in power, and rebels adamant that Libya’s leader for the past 41 years leave.
April 2, 2011
At least 13 people are reported to have been killed when a coalition plane flying over Libya fired on a rebel convoy between Brega and Ajdabiya on Friday, the rebels say. Doctors at a hospital in Ajdabiya told the BBC that three medical students were among the dead. Nato said it was looking into the incident but that it was very difficult to verify details about what happened. The attack came after rebels reportedly fired an anti-aircraft gun. Meanwhile, Libya’s government rejected a rebel ceasefire offer. Spokesman Moussa Ibrahim dismissed the idea as “mad”. Troops loyal to Col Muammar Gaddafi would never withdraw from the rebel-held cities they were besieging, he said. He also condemned recent coalition air strikes as “a crime against humanity” and said there had been civilian casualties in one attack on Thursday. The rebels were on their way to Brega when they fired into the air with an anti-aircraft gun, the BBC’s Nick Springate reported from the scene of the attack.
The road to the front line is riddled with holes caused by what looks like a Nato A10 aircraft, our correspondent says. On either side of the road are the remains of four pick-up trucks and one ambulance as well as the graves of those killed in the attack, he adds. The attack is thought to have happened between 2300 and midnight local time. There is very little clarity surrounding the incident, but an anti-aircraft gun may have been fired in celebration, our correspondent says. A coalition plane then opened fire on the convoy, destroying the five vehicles, the rebels said. Nato said it regretted any loss of civilian life. “Nato jets are in the sky over Libya because they are enforcing the no fly zone, the UN mandate to protect civilians,” Oana Lungescu told the BBC. But she added: “If someone fires against our aircraft they have the right to respond, they are enforcing a no fly zone. Any anti-aircraft guns would be acting against that.”
On Friday, the head of the rebel Transitional National Council, Abdul Jalil Ibrahim, discussed how a truce might come about after meeting UN special envoy Abdelilah al-Khatib in the eastern city of Benghazi. “We have no objection to a ceasefire but on condition that Libyans in western cities have full freedom in expressing their views and also that the forces that are besieging the cities withdraw,” he told reporters. “Our main demand is the departure of Muammar Gaddafi and his sons from Libya. This is a demand we will not go back on.” Mr Abdul Jalil, who quit as justice minister in protest at the use of violence against demonstrators, also said he believed the coalition should begin arming the rebels despite the UN arms embargo on Libya.
April 1, 2011
The revolution has finally permitted Mohammed Gadir to say who he really thinks is responsible for the “curse” placed on his son as an infant. But that freedom has also brought a fresh threat to the life of Wanis, now 13, that has left his father torn between the joys of throwing off the shackles of dictatorship and fear for the immediate future. “My son has HIV. Gaddafi is to blame. We could not say it then. We can say it now. But the revolution means the drugs he takes every day are not coming from Tripoli,” he said. “It is not only Wanis. There are 450 children like this and only a week of drugs left. Most of them are in Benghazi. People have forgotten about them.”
Wanis Gadir was among hundreds of children infected with HIV in a Benghazi children’s hospital in the late 1990s. The regime blamed foreign doctors and nurses, saying they were part of a conspiracy by US and Israeli intelligence agencies to spread Aids in Libya. European governments and aid agencies said Libya’s health ministry failed to screen blood products adequately. Seven years ago, as the government was making scapegoats of a group of Bulgarian nurses, Gadir took the public position that he was “100% certain” that his son had been infected by foreigners testing a “manufactured” strain of HIV on unsuspecting Libyans. He says now that was not his view then but asks what he was supposed to say when living under Gaddafi’s regime. “Gaddafi gave them Aids. The sheikhs told us that,” he said. Gadir, 56, has come a long way since serving as a diplomat for Gaddafi, including working at the Libyan embassy in London.
But freedom may come at a high personal cost if attempts by the families with HIV-positive children, who have appealed to foreign aid agencies for help, are not successful. Even a few days without the antiretroviral drugs that keep Wanis a fit teenager could have a profound impact. While there is no grand humanitarian crisis in the rebel-held areas away from the immediate fighting, there is a constellation of individual struggles and sacrifices, some getting more difficult by the day, even as support for the revolution appears only to strengthen. Young mothers are grappling with the loss of husbands to the fighting. Tens of thousands of people have been driven from their homes. Hundreds are dead in the uprising and hundreds more missing. Families have been torn apart, divided by geography from partners or children living in what might be called Gaddafi-land, which now seems a very different, almost unreal, country from the one newly liberated Libyans inhabit.
Large numbers have no jobs and are struggling to find cash to get by as many businesses in the rebel-held areas remain shuttered. Schools are closed and students due to take exams this summer are falling behind. Then there is the sheer exhaustion of the revolution rollercoaster. The ride has taken them from the euphoria of believing Gaddafi was all but out of the door to watching his troops jump back to the gates of Benghazi. In rapid succession came the relief of the western air strikes, the front sweeping forward and back, and Gaddafi’s army once again menacing the de facto capital of the revolution.
March 31, 2011
Libya’s foreign minister Moussa Koussa, one of Col Gaddafi’s closest aides, has arrived in London and told officials he is quitting, the Foreign Office says. It said Mr Koussa had indicated he was no longer willing to represent the Libyan leader’s regime internationally. The FCO added it wanted to “encourage those around Gaddafi to abandon him and embrace a better future for Libya”. A Libyan government spokesman earlier insisted Mr Koussa had been travelling abroad on a diplomatic mission. The development came on the same day the UK took steps to expel five Libyan diplomats. Foreign Secretary William Hague told MPs the five, who include the military attache, “could pose a threat” to UK security.
BBC political editor Nick Robinson said Mr Koussa had flown into Farnborough airport, in Hampshire, on Wednesday afternoon from Tunisia and had been debriefed, most likely by intelligence officials. He said the fact he had flown into Farnborough was significant as he had clearly not been on a commercial flight. “What is not clear is whether he has arrived simply to escape, or to play a wider role in any opposition to Col Gaddafi,” he said. “Clearly his defection, if that’s what it becomes, will be used to urge others to follow suit and claim the regime is losing support.” Mr Koussa has not met with Prime Minister David Cameron or Foreign Secretary William Hague yet, but he is known to have been a point of contact for Mr Hague in recent weeks.
In a statement the Foreign Office said: “We can confirm that Moussa Koussa arrived at Farnborough Airport on 30 March from Tunisia. “He travelled here under his own free will. He has told us he is resigning his post. “Koussa is one of the most senior figures in Gaddafi’s government and his role was to represent the regime internationally – something that he is no longer willing to do. “We encourage those around Gaddafi to abandon him and embrace a better future for Libya that allows political transition and real reform that meets the aspirations of the Libyan people.”
March 30, 2011
LONDON — Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa arrived in the U.K. on Wednesday and is resigning from his post, Britain’s government said. Moussa arrived from Tunisia at Farnborough Airport, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) southwest of London, the Foreign Office said in a statement, adding that he traveled here under his own free will. “He has told us that he is resigning his post,” the statement said. “We are discussing this with him and we will release further detail in due course.” It was not immediately possible to confirm the statement with Moussa or people close to him. “We encourage those around (Libyan leader Moammar) Gadhafi to abandon him and embrace a better future for Libya that allows political transition and real reform that meets the aspirations of the Libyan people.”
March 30, 2011
Muammar Gaddafi’s forces have continued their rapid advance despite continued coalition air strikes, retaking much of the territory gained by rebels at the weekend. Their advance also threatens to humiliate the western coalition by again coming within striking distance of Benghazi, the rebels’ de facto capital that Paris, Washington and London launched the aerial campaign to defend. People who had returned to the strategic town of Ajdabiya after it fell to the rebels on Saturday again fled as the government’s army seized two important oil towns further along the coastal highway, Ras Lanuf and Brega. It was not immediately clear if the regime intended to try and take Ajdabiya again after its forces were heavily pounded by air strikes at the end of last week. But the government has nevertheless pressed ahead with its counter offensive using not only the artillery that it still retains but what appears to be a larger ground force than previously deployed. On Monday, the rebels moved to within 45 miles of Sirte, the strategically and politically important birthplace of Gaddafi, and were proclaiming they would be in Tripoli before the end of the week after advancing about 200 miles in two days under the cover of the western air strikes.
But the regime’s counterattack has outmanoeuvred the poorly disciplined and ill-trained rebels who barely made a stand at Brega before turning and fleeing toward Ajdabiya. If the government were to move on Ajdabiya, that would once again open the road to Benghazi. The rebel leadership, which has called for an intensification of air strikes to destroy the regime’s ability to fight, said it was not hugely concerned at the seesawing military fortunes. “Whether we advance 50km or retreat 50km … it’s a big country. They will go back the next day,” said a spokesman, Mustafa Gheriani, in Benghazi. But the situation has raised concerns within the leadership that the rebels repeated inability to hold territory, amid disorganisation, lack of training and poor discipline, will undermine the western coalition’s commitment to the fight against Gaddafi. Rebels said that they have been surprised by the force of the regime’s offensive over the past two days after the destruction of a significant number of government tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery at the weekend. Meanwhile, as debate within the anti-Gaddafi international coalition over the legality of arming the rebellion continued, the foreign secretary, William Hague, said it would be possible to supply weapons under certain circumstances.
Earlier, David Cameron told the Commons no decision had been made but he “would not necessarily rule out the protection of civilians in certain circumstances”. The rebels’ rapid withdrawal came just days after they raced westwards following the destruction of government tanks and artillery in five days of aerial bombardment in Ajdabiya. Ragtag opposition fighters have repeatedly been forced to retreat after fierce bombardments by the more disciplined government troops. “Gaddafi hit us with huge rockets. He has entered Ras Lanuf,” one rebel fighter, Faraj Muftah, told Reuters after pulling out of the oil port. “We were at the western gate in Ras Lanuf and we were bombarded,” said a second fighter, Hisham. Scores of rebel four-wheel pickups raced east, away from Ras Lanuf. Later, pro-government forces moved through Ras Lanuf into Brega, sending rebels fleeing once more. Speaking to the Commons, Hague revealed that five Libyan diplomats had been expelled from the regime’s London embassy because they represented a potential security risk.
March 28, 2011
Coalition air raids have hit the town of Sirte, Col Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown and the next target of rebel forces advancing westwards. A Libyan government spokesman said three Libyan civilians had been killed in the city’s port. Heavy explosions were also heard in the capital, Tripoli, late on Sunday. The raids came as Nato took full command of the whole military operation in Libya, intended to enforce a UN resolution to protect civilians. Foreign correspondents in Sirte said they heard several loud explosions in the city as aircraft flew overhead.
A rebel spokesman in Benghazi has said Sirte is now in the hands of rebel forces – but there has been no independent confirmation of the claim. Later, Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said three young Libyan men had been killed in an air strike on a fishing harbour near Sirte. There was “nothing military or quasi-military” there, he said. Libyan officials say more than a week of strikes have killed nearly 100 civilians but this cannot be independently confirmed. The air strikes, intended to prevent Col Gaddafi’s forces from attacking civilian targets among the uprising against his rule, have allowed rebel forces to push westwards along the coastal highway from their eastern stronghold of Benghazi.
March 27, 2011
Nato’s Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has said it has decided to take on the whole military operation in Libya “with immediate effect”. The alliance will enforce “all aspects” of the UN resolution authorising action to protect civilians. “Nothing more, nothing less,” Mr Rasmussen added. Libyan rebels have been advancing westwards, capturing towns abandoned by Col Muammar Gaddafi’s forces. Explosions were also heard in Sirte and the capital, Tripoli, on Sunday night.
It is not clear what the causes of the blasts were, though state TV said the cities were being bombed by “Crusader and colonialist” forces. A government spokesman also said the town of Sabha had been targeted. Sirte, the Libyan leader’s stronghold, is only 100km (60 miles) west of the town of Nufaila, which rebel forces said they had reached. Foreign journalists said the city was swarming with soldiers on patrol. The rebels earlier retook the eastern coastal towns of Ras Lanuf, Brega, Uqayla and Bin Jawad, only a day after seizing control of Ajdabiya.
Nato’s plan to take responsibility for operations in Libya had already been agreed by military representatives of the 28 member states, but it needed ambassadors to provide political approval at a meeting in Brussels. In a communique hailing the “very significant step”, Mr Rasmussen said that in the past week the alliance had “put together a complete package of operations in support of the United Nations resolution by sea and by air”. “We are already enforcing the arms embargo and the no-fly zone, and with today’s decision we are going beyond. We will be acting in close co-ordination with our international and regional partners to protect the people of Libya.”
Mr Rasmussen said Nato’s goal was to “protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack from the Gaddafi regime”. “Nato will implement all aspects of the UN Resolution. Nothing more, nothing less,” he added. Nato’s top operational commander, Gen Charles Bouchard of Canada, would “begin executing this operation with immediate effect”, he concluded. The BBC’s Chris Morris in Brussels says the mission to protect civilians was more sensitive because it involved debate about what exactly are legitimate military targets on the ground. There were disagreements notably between France and Turkey about political control of the mission, but they have now been resolved, our correspondent says. But the precise rules of engagement have not been revealed, he adds.
Alongside the Nato command structure will be a separate, high-level committee of representatives of all countries taking part in the military action, including Arab states. It will give what one official called “broad political guidance.”
march 27, 2011
Libyan rebels are advancing on Muammar Gaddafi’s home city, Sirte, after retaking all the ground lost in earlier fighting as government forces broke and fled under western air strikes. Revolutionary forces rapidly moved more than 150 miles west along Libya’s coastal road, seizing several towns without resistance, as the first witness accounts emerged of the devastating effect on Gaddafi’s army and militia of the aerial bombardment which broke their resistance at Ajdabiya on Saturday. A doctor treating wounded government soldiers described hundreds of deaths, terrible injuries and collapsing morale.
Today, rebels retook the important oil towns of Brega, Ras Lanuf and Ben Jawad, and continued on the open desert road toward Sirte, about 95 miles away. Two loud explosions were heard last night near Sirte, which marks the boundary between the east and west of Libya. It was not immediately clear what had been hit, but local people said a military installation in the city was bombed on Saturday night – one of many targeted across the country in a week of coalition strikes. Soldiers manning a mobile radar station on the outskirts of the city looked nervous as night fell and aircraft were heard overhead. Large numbers of armed men, militiamen as well as regular soldiers, were on the streets and there was less of the exuberant defiance and loyal pro-Gaddafi slogans of the sort heard constantly in Tripoli.
Travelling eastwards from the capital, the war feels closer. In Bani Walid, south of Tripoli, tank transporters carrying dirty armoured fighting vehicles drew a small crowd, and an appreciative volley of machine gun fire. Other Libyan army vehicles moved west along the main road, including some heavy tanks – Soviet-made T-72s – but there were no signs of large-scale movement. Everywhere, there are long queues at petrol stations, sometimes with hundreds of vehicles stretching down the road as they wait. At one queue, drivers were relieved when a tanker finally delivered a load of fuel, but then reacted with frustration when there was no electricity to operate the pumps. As well as its political significance as Gaddafi’s birthplace, Sirte is seen as important to his defence of Tripoli, the capital, which is now less than 300 miles from the rebels’ frontline.
Control of the oil terminals at Brega and Ras Lanuf is in itself a major gain because it could bring the rebel administration significant revenue from exports if production resumes. Rebels moved unchallenged along a road littered with evidence of the air campaign and the speed of their enemies’ retreat. The blackened carcasses of tanks, armoured vehicles and military trucks were pushed to the side of the road. In their hurried retreat from Ras Lanuf, government forces abandoned piles of ammunition. They included grey wooden boxes containing rockets but stamped as holding “parts of bulldozer”, manufactured in North Korea. In Bin Jawad, residents said a destroyed municipal building had been hit by an air strike. The rebels forced captured Gaddafi fighters on to buses and drove them to Benghazi.
March 26, 2011
Timothy Garton Ash is right to highlight how domestic political pressures have led to serious differences between EU leaders on Libya (Comment, 24 March), but it would be too simplistic to argue that this shows a complete failure of the EU’s new foreign policy mechanisms. The EU high representative, Cathy Ashton, has had the challenging task of juggling the views of France, Britain and Germany while also dealing with the Italians and Maltese, who are more concerned about the EU’s inability to deal with the refugees fleeing from the crisis.
But we should not forget that the EU has already contributed to the evacuation of over 100,000 refugees and is this week securing water supplies to Benghazi – for all those with doubts about the military involvement, there can be no better example of the humanitarian objective of the operation. Better EU unity should start with Germany, which is playing the leading role at present in setting Europe’s economic direction. Now it has to become more comfortable with the security element of the common foreign and security policy.
For the future, it may be that we will see a de facto partitioned Libya in the short-term, where Europe can play a crucial role in supporting increasing normalisation in opposition-held territory, showing people still suffering under Gaddafi’s rule the possibilities for further change. For fellow EU members who lobbied so strongly for enhanced EU foreign policy powers, Libya presents the difficult realities this entails.
Richard Howitt MEP
Labour spokesperson on foreign affairs
• Seumas Milne shows a clear understanding of the hypocrisies and self-interest that underlie the brave words of Cameron, Sarkozy et al (Comment, 24 March). But he would do better to balance this with a rather more searching account of the hypocrisies and self-interest of those opposed to intervention, and not to talk down the very real predicament facing the besieged of Benghazi. He writes: “The idea that they [Gaddafi's forces] would have been able to overrun an armed and hostile city of 700,000 people any time soon seems far-fetched.” Does he really believe that?
Newcastle upon Tyne
• In your report (23 March) about the US plane which crashed in Libya, US Rear Admiral Peg Klein was quoted as saying: “We are solely focused on those two crew members being cared for.” What a pity she hasn’t the time to give any focus on the Libyan farmer’s son (20) who had his leg amputated as a result of being shot by the US rescue team.
March 26, 2011
Associated Press= TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Tiny Qatar became the first Arab country to fly combat missions over Libya on Friday after NATO agreed to take command of the no-fly zone part of air operations against Moammar Gadhafi’s regime. French and British jets struck Libyan military targets around a besieged eastern city, as talks in the Ethiopian capital to find a way out of the crisis produced a statement from the Libyan government delegation saying his country was ready to talk with rebels and accept political reform, possibly including elections. It not immediately unclear what was behind the offer from Libyan negotiator Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi. Rebels, who were not at the talks, say they will not negotiate with Gadhafi. The Qatari fighter jet flew its first sortie alongside a French jet on Friday and the United Arab Emirates pledged 12 warplanes to the effort to thwart Moammar Gadhafi. The international effort has no other countries from the Arab League, a 22-member group that was among the driving forces behind the U.N. Security Council decision to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.
“Qatar has been a great ally from Day One,” said Mustafa Gheriani, spokesman for opposition Benghazi city council. “It’s an Arab country to be proud of.” The United States has provided millions of dollars in equipment to many of the league’s countries, including Saudi Arabia and Jordan. “Having our first Arab nation join and start flying with us emphasizes that the world wants the innocent Libyan people protected from the atrocities perpetrated by pro-regime forces,” U.S. Air Forces Africa Commander Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward said. The international coalition confronting Gadhafi agreed to put NATO in charge of enforcing the no-fly zone, with Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard at the helm, and hammered out a unified command structure. Despite the leadership confusion, Britain’s senior military spokesman, said the mission was succeeding. “We have not been able to stop all Col. Gadhafi’s attacks, and we would never pretend that we could,” Maj. Gen. John Lorimer told reporters in London Friday. But, he said, “They are losing aircraft, tanks, guns that they cannot replace. His ability to use these weapons against his own people is diminished daily.”
British and French warplanes hit near the town of Ajdabiya, destroying an artillery battery and armored vehicles. Ajdabiya and the western city of Misrata, in particular, have suffered because the rebels lack the heavy weapons to lift Gadhafi’s siege. Rida al-Montasser, an activist from Misrata, said Gadhafi forces fired mortars and RPGs from rooftops along a main street, hitting a market and a residential building. He said that rebels are trying to chase the snipers from rooftops, rounded up some 30 of the snipers so far and still searching for more. In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a top African Union official called for a transition period in Libya that would lead to democratic elections, a rare rebuke from African leaders who appear to be pushing for political reforms that could lead Gadhafi’s ouster. African Union commission chairman Jean Ping said in an opening speech that the AU favors an inclusive transitional period that would lead to democratic elections. “We are convinced, at the African Union level, that there is a sufficient basis for reaching a consensus and making a valuable contribution to finding a lasting solution in Libya,” he said.
March 25, 2011
Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is said to be arming volunteers to fight the uprising against his rule, a senior US military official has said. Vice Admiral William Gortney said Col Gaddafi had “virtually no air defence” and a “diminishing ability to command and sustain his forces on the ground”. Coalition forces launched strikes against Libyan tanks around the eastern town of Ajdabiya, he said. Rebels and pro-Gaddafi forces are in a stand-off near the town, witnesses say. Meanwhile, Qatar became the first Arab state to contribute to the air mission over Libya. Briefing reporters on Friday, Vice Adm Gortney said Col Gaddafi’s forces had been severely weakened by international military action.
“His air force cannot fly, his warships are staying in port, his ammunitions stores are being destroyed, communications towers are being toppled, his command bunkers rendered useless,” he said. “We’ve received reports today that he has taken to arming what he calls volunteers to fight the opposition,” he added. “I’m not sure… if they are truly volunteers or not, and I don’t know how many of these recruits he’s going to get, but I find it interesting that he may now feel it necessary to seek civilian reinforcements.” Western forces began bombing targets last weekend in a bid to enforce a UN resolution that banned the Libyan military from launching air attacks on civilians. Nato is expected to take over the lead of the entire Libya operation from the Americans in the coming days. It has already taken command of enforcing the no-fly zone. Despite the reports of setbacks for pro-Gaddafi forces considerably, fighting has continued in Misrata in the west and Ajdabiya in the east. French and British jets bombed targets near Ajdabiya the eastern town overnight, including government forces’ artillery.
Libya action: More UK missiles target defences
March 24, 2011
UK forces have launched further missiles at Libyan air defences during a fifth night of coalition action to enforce a UN-backed no-fly zone. Guided Tomahawk land attack missiles were fired from a Trafalgar Class submarine, defence officials said. Eleven countries are taking part in the action to protect Libyan civilians. Foreign Secretary William Hague told MPs the case for it remained “utterly compelling”.
In a statement to the Commons, he said: “Appalling violence against Libyan citizens continues to take place, exposing the regime’s claims to have ordered a ceasefire to be an utter sham. “Misrata has been under siege for days by regime ground forces, although coalition air strikes are helping to relieve the pressure on its citizens.
“Many… are trapped in their homes… and facing sniper fire if they venture into the streets, while the local hospital is swamped with casualties. “Ajdabiya continues to be under attack, with reports of civilian deaths from tank shells. “This underlines the appalling danger its inhabitants would be in without coalition action, as do continued threats by Gadaffi forces to ‘massacre’ residents in areas under bombardment.”
On Wednesday the RAF commander of the air operations, Air Vice Marshal Greg Bagwell, said the Libyan air force was no longer a fighting force. Ships from Nato nations have also started patrolling off the Libyan coast to enforce a UN arms embargo against Col Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. They aim to intercept and board ships suspected of ferrying arms to the Libyan government.
March 24, 2011
Fighting between rebels and forces loyal to Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi has been continuing in key cities after a fifth consecutive night of air strikes by international forces. Overnight, several loud explosions were heard in the capital, Tripoli. In the rebel-held city of Misrata, east of Tripoli, government tanks have been shelling the area near the hospital. A French fighter has shot down a Libyan air force jet which was violating the no-fly zone, ABC News has reported.
There have also been reports of fierce fighting between rebels and pro-Gaddafi forces in strategic Ajdabiya. Residents fleeing the town described shelling, gunfire and houses on fire. There are reports of Western air strikes hitting the Tajura district of the capital, Libyan military sources and media have said. And the French military has said French air strikes hit a Libyan air base in the interior of the country overnight.
The strikes hit a base about 250km (155 miles) south of the Libyan coastline, French military spokesman Col Thierry Burkhard told reporters. He did not give any further information on the location of the target or the damage. Later on Thursday, Western military planes were reported to have hit the town of Sebha in southern Libya, according to residents and media reports. Sebha, about 750km (480 miles) south of Tripoli, is a Gaddafi stronghold and home to an important military base.
An explosion was also reported overnight at a military base in the Tajura region east of Tripoli. Residents in the capital earlier said plumes of black smoke could be seen coming from an area near a military base, although this has not been independently confirmed. In Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city, witnesses had said on Wednesday that tanks had pulled back from their positions under air assault from international forces. But later, residents said the tanks had rolled back into the city and resumed shelling. Misrata resident Muhammad told the BBC many large explosions were heard overnight in the city: “Even now we continue to hear the aeroplanes circling the air above Misrata right now…
“Our major problem in Misrata is with the snipers. Gaddafi’s forces have occupied the main street… which stretches from the town centre all the way to the highway and beyond. There are snipers all along the rooftops of that street. They are firing indiscriminately into the main street and the back streets. But the heavy artillery and shelling has stopped since yesterday [Wednesday]. In that sense, we are in a much better position.” Another resident has said pro-government forces have seized control of the city’s port, where there are thousands of stranded foreign workers seeking to leave, Reuters news agency reported on Thursday.
March 24, 2011
Nearly 12 hours of allied air strikes have broken the Libyan regime’s five-day bloody assault on the key rebel-held town of Misrata. Residents said the aerial bombardment destroyed tanks and artillery and sent many of Muammar Gaddafi’s forces fleeing from Misrata, ending a siege and attack by the regime that cost nearly 100 lives from random shelling, snipers and bitter street fighting. Mohammed Ali, an IT engineer at Misrata’s main hospital, said that waves of air strikes began shortly after midnight on Wednesday. “They bombed a lot of sites of the Gaddafi army. There is a former hospital where his tanks were based. All the tanks and the hospital were destroyed. A column of tanks was destroyed on the edge of the city,” he said. “After that there was no shelling. We are very relieved. We are very grateful. We want to thank the world. The Gaddafi forces are scattered around. All that is left is the snipers and our fighters can take care of them.”
Ali said people in Misrata wanted the coalition to keep up the air strikes until all Gaddafi’s forces were driven away from the town to ensure that those who were able to escape with armoured vehicles and guns did not return. A doctor in the town, who did not want to be named, said snipers were continuing to sow fear by targeting not only rebels but civilians. “The sniper problem is a big one. A lot of people are still afraid to leave their homes,” he said. The apparent breaking of the siege will be a blow to the Libyan ruler’s attempts to reassert control over the entire west of the country. It may also serve as a further deterrent, along with the destruction of Gaddafi’s tanks, artillery and soldiers that were attacking Benghazi, to those still fighting for the dictator.
But it did not stop the regime’s forces from continuing to put up stiff resistance around the strategic town of Ajdabiya in the east, despite repeated coalition bombing raids. Ali described the past five days of attack on Misrata as “hell”. “It was crazy in the last five days. The hospital was overwhelmed. Ninety four people were killed. Sixty of them were civilians. Whole families were wiped out driving in their cars,” he said. “The injured were more than 1,300. About 115 serious cases were kept in hospital. Everyone without life threatening injures was sent home. I’ve seen people who’ve just had a leg amputated sent home.” Ali said that the town has had no water or electricity for nine days. The medical centre is running on a generator.
The air strikes in and around Misrata suggest that what appears to be a tactic of Gaddafi’s forces to shelter in residential areas, in response to the destruction of tanks and guns on the open desert road near Benghazi, has not provided protection. Residents of the town said that the coalition aircraft managed to destroy the regime’s armour without any known civilian casualties. The revolutionary leadership has said that even if there are civilian casualties, they will be a necessary price to prevent even greater loss of life if Gaddafi’s forces had continued their assault on Misrata and exacted revenge against the residents for their support of the uprising.
March 24, 2011
BANI WALID, Libya — The family of a Libyan soldier killed in an allied airstrike quickly listed all those they blame in his death – al-Qaida militants, Al-Jazeera television and “the Crusader conspiracy to divide Libya.” It mimicked nearly word for word the rhetoric that Moammar Gadhafi’s state television has been using to explain the revolt that has engulfed the country. In public, where Gadhafi is in charge, people are on message. The regime has been keeping up a drumbeat of propaganda in the Tripoli-centered west of the country under its control. Even so, some still whisper their opposition to the Libyan leader. State-run newscasts are filled with conspiracy theories, like Western designs on Libyan oil and Gulf-funded al-Qaida militants out to divide the country. Libyan broadcasts call the allied air strikes Crusades, and callers on talk shows quickly blame Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, the Arabic language satellite TV channels, for boosting what they call militant gangs in the East, where the rebels are in control.
In between talk shows and newscasts, looped video of demonstrators at Gadhafi’s residential compound at Bab Al-Aziziya are shown under a title reading, “Bab Al-Aziziya Now.” Excerpts of Gadhafi’s speeches calling rebels vermin and rats, promising to disinfect Libya street by street, alleyway by alleyway, act as bridges between revolutionary songs on Libyan state radio. The leader’s speeches have even become made into catchy songs that blare from supporters’ cars and are even used as mobile phone ring tones. With only Libyan state television and radio available in the country, the uncontested messages seem to be sinking in. Fathi Abu Bakr, a soldier in Gadhafi’s army, died in the conflict. In the small town of Bani Walid, about 120 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of the capital, his family staged a tiny pro-Gadhafi rally for visiting journalists on Wednesday in the small front yard of their simple home. Abu Bakr’s family said the soldier was killed in a French air strike on Saturday in Benghazi, leaving behind a wife and two children, who moved back to her family’s hometown. “I am very happy he was martyred fighting the people who are trying to divide our country,” said his aunt, Nooreya Mouftah. “They are all militants from Afghanistan, Egypt and Tunisia.”
When pressed on how she knew the rebels were not Libyans, Mouftah looked puzzled. It’s just a known fact, she told reporters, clutching a picture of a smiling Gadhafi in military uniform. Last week her family was given a brand new AK-47 assault rifle by the government to protect themselves from rebels. Mouftah grabbed the gun and fired it in the air, posing for the journalists’ cameras. “The West wants to conspire against us because we have happiness, wealth and oil, and they want to take it from us” she said. Back in Tripoli, the Gadhafi protesters are loud and boisterous. They are quick to rally for the benefit of foreign journalists, chanting the same line – “God, Moammar, and Libya: That’s enough.” Carrying AK-47s and large, glossy photos of a Gadhafi in various stages of his life and fashion, they extol “Brother Leader’s” messages of fighting al-Qaida, repeating his claim that Western allies are “envious” of Libya’s wealth. The capital’s main Green Square is filled daily with a group of supporters dancing to blaring pro-Gadhafi music and waving green flags. They chant “Down Down BBC, Down Down Al-Jazeera” and shout at journalists to “tell the truth.”
But the crowd has been thinning in recent days. In Tripoli’s quiet alleyways, and in neighborhoods like Fashloum and Tajoura that saw clashes with Libyan security forces during protests a month ago, there are hints of something under the surface that still seems afraid to come out. In the old city, almost all shops are closed, their green shutters tightly locked, people afraid for their wares in this time of crisis. A jewelry shop owner was surprisingly candid with journalists, considering Gadhafi’s harsh attitude toward dissent. “Gadhafi has put us in a tough position,” he said, refusing to give his name for fear of retribution. “He shouldn’t have ordered his men to fire into peaceful protesters.” Asked about the government’s claim that the rebels were a group of al-Qaida gangs and thugs, he laughed. “How is it that all of Libya – Zawiya, Zintan, Misrata, Benghazi – all are al-Qaida?” he said. “Gadhafi is the problem.”
The shop keeper quickly fell silent when the journalists’ government minder entered the store. In another part of town, a taxi driver who would give only his first name, Ziyad, said he joined the protests in the troubled neighborhood of Souq Jumoa almost a month ago. “I am one of those youth who has become suffocated with life in Libya,” he said. “I want opportunities like other youth in the world, but Gadhafi just makes us suffer.” Ziyad said he always wanted to learn English, but wasn’t able to because the education system in Libya was poor. He said he quickly went home when Libyan security started shooting at protesters in Tripoli. “I’m not sure if people will take to the streets again, because they don’t want to die,” he said. “But it is there – something is definitely bubbling.”
March 22, 2011
Col Muammar Gaddafi’s air force “no longer exists as a fighting force”, the commander of British aircraft operating over Libya has said. Air Vice Marshal Greg Bagwell said the allies could now operate “with near impunity” over the skies of Libya. He said they were now applying unrelenting pressure on the Libyan armed forces. He was speaking during a visit to RAF aircrew based at Gioia del Colle in southern Italy. “We are watching over the innocent people of Libya and ensuring that we protect them from attack,” he said. “We have the Libyan ground forces under constant observation and we attack them whenever they threaten civilians or attack population centres.” His comments come as Nato members debate who should lead the intervention, with the US keen to hand over to Nato. They were echoed by Rear Admiral Gerard Hueber, US chief of staff for the Libya mission, who said: “We are putting pressure on Gadaffi’s ground forces that are threatening cities.” Asked if that meant air strikes, he replied: “Yes.” Speaking to reporters by phone from the command ship USS Mount Whitney, in the Mediterranean, he insisted there had been no reports of civilian casualties caused by allied action.
“Our mission here is to protect the civilian populace and we choose our targets and plan our actions with that as a top priority.” He said allied aircraft had flown 175 sorties in the last 24 hours – 113 of them by US aircraft. Western aircraft have flown more than 300 sorties over Libya in recent days and more than 162 Tomahawk cruise missiles have been fired. Snipers Earlier, witnesses reported that international forces had launched new air strikes near Libya’s rebel-held western city of Misrata. Witnesses said tanks pulled back from their positions, from where they have been spearheading a siege of the city for days, but said snipers continued to target people from rooftops. Mohamed, a spokesman for the rebels in Misrata, said: “Misrata was in a desperate state… we almost lost all hope, but the strikes came at a good time with good intensity and frequency. “They even managed to take out some convoys inside the city which was very impressive.
“The strikes made such a difference – Gaddafi’s forces are scared of them. I want to express our gratitude and appreciation for these actions – we will never, ever forget.” Col Gaddafi’s forces have also resumed their pounding of Zintan, near the Tunisian border, according to reports. And there are also reports of fierce fighting between rebels and pro-Gaddafi forces in the strategic eastern town of Ajdabiya. Residents fleeing the town described shelling, gunfire and houses on fire. Late on Tuesday, Col Gaddafi made his first public appearance in a week and gave a short speech to a crowd of supporters in Tripoli. He urged “all Islamic armies” to join him, saying: “We will be victorious.” Naval blockade Meanwhile, ships from Nato nations have started patrolling off the Libyan coast to enforce a UN arms embargo against Col Gaddafi’s regime. A spokesman for the Western military alliance, Canadian Brig Gen Pierre St Amand, said six vessels were taking part in the first day of patrols.
They aim to intercept and board ships suspected of ferrying arms to the Libyan government. “If, after inspection, doubts remain as to the legitimacy of the cargo, the vessel will be diverted to a designated port for further inspection,” Gen St Amand said. Nato members have been holding talks about assuming responsibility for the no-fly zone over Libya, so far without agreement. Turkey is an integral part of the naval blockade but expressed concern about the alliance taking over command of the no-fly zone from the US. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has arrived in the Egyptian capital Cairo for talks on both Libya and Egypt’s hoped-for transition to democracy following the fall of Hosni Mubarak. He was previously in Moscow, where President Dmitry Medvedev criticised what he called the “indiscriminate use of force” by coalition aircraft in Libya. Mr Gates rejected the criticism of the air strikes, saying Col Gaddafi was lying about civilian casualties. Russia abstained from last week’s UN Security Council resolution that authorised armed intervention in Libya to protect civilians.
March 22, 2011
Muammar Gaddafi has made his first public appearance since air strikes on his forces began, pledging that he will not surrender and calling the international coalition against him a “bunch of fascists”. The speech came after Barack Obama warned the Libyan leader may try to hang on to power despite the military intervention. But the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said she understood people close to Gaddafi were in touch with other countries asking for advice on exile options. Clashes continued on Tuesday morning on the frontline between rebels and Gaddafi forces north of Ajdabiya. Those forces, which appeared to be well dug-in, fired barrages of mortar and tank shells at the opposition fighters, whose advance on the city appears to have stalled. Gaddafi appeared outside his Tripoli compound early on Wednesday morning to speak to supporters who have formed a human shield to protect him. “We will not surrender,” he said. “We will defeat them by any means … We are ready for the fight, whether it will be a short or a long one … We will be victorious in the end,” he said in comments carried live by state television.
“This assault … is by a bunch of fascists who will end up in the dustbin of history,” he added, to the approving roar of the crowd. The early morning address was his first public appearance in a week, and there was nothing in it to suggest any lessening of his determination to sit out what he calls the “colonialist-crusader” attacks on Libya. Gaddafi seemed aware of growing rumours about his whereabouts after two strikes on his Bab al-Aziziya compound – with one opposition source reporting him at a hideout deep in the Sahara. “I am here, in my modest tent,” Gaddafi said. “I am here.” Clinton told ABC News she understood people close to the Libyan leader had contacted other states. “We’ve heard about other people close to him reaching out to people that they know around the world, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, north America, beyond, saying what do we do?” she said. “How do we get out of this? What happens next? “I’m not aware that he personally has reached out, but I do know that people allegedly on his behalf have been reaching out.” Speaking to CNN during his trip to south America, Obama said he hoped the military intervention would help the Libyan opposition start organising for change. He said it might not be “military might” but a belief among the Libyan people that it is time for a change that ends with “ultimately sweeping Gaddafi out of power”.
March 23, 2011
Western nations carrying out a military operation in Libya have agreed to use NATO to drive the operation but divisions remain among other members of the alliance. Barack Obama, the US president, agreed with David Cameron, the UK prime minister, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, that NATO would play a key role in the operation to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, the White House said on Tuesday. But the allies stopped short of endorsing NATO political leadership of the mission, following resistance from alliance member Turkey. The announcement came after Turkey warned that it could not agree to the military alliance taking over the enforcement of the no-fly zone if their mission went “outside the framework” of the UN decision. France later proposed that a new political steering committee outside of NATO be responsible for overseeing military operations over Libya to enforce the UN-backed no-fly zone.
Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, said the new body would bring together foreign ministers from participating states, including Britain, France and the US, as well as the Arab League. It is expected to meet in the coming days, either in Brussels, London or Paris. Juppe said not all members of the military coalition are members of NATO so “this is therefore not a NATO operation”. However, he said the coalition would use NATO’s “planning and intervention capabilities”. Laurence Lee, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Brussels, said: “You can either regard [the proposal] as another attempt by the French to outflank everybody else and stay ahead of the game, or, if you’re more kind about it, an attempt by the French to display some sort of creativity and sensitivity in what is more or less unchartered territory. “The reason why [the proposal] seems perhaps to have some traction is because NATO seems to find it so impossibly difficult at the moment to come to some sort of agreement between themselves as to the way forward.”
A NATO official told the Reuters news agency that the 28-member alliance had agreed on a detailed operational plan regarding the no-fly zone, but that political agreement still remained elusive. On Monday, Barack Obama, the US president, had said that Washington would transfer its leading role on Libya “within days” to ensure the burden of enforcing the no-fly zone was shared. The White House said on Tuesday that Obama had spoken to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, and that they had agreed to seek a “broad” global effort on Libya. Obama, on a visit to South America, spoke by telephone Monday evening to Erdogan who has publicly denounced the military campaign against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi as counter-productive.