At least 22 rebels killed in Zlitan, shelling in Gadamis opens up new front in five-month war
Troops loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi were surrounding
the city of Zlitan, just 160km east of Tripoli, on Saturday, rebels said, after
fighting broke out there that could open up the coastal road to the capital.
Sporadic clashes between Gaddafi's forces and the rebels
continued in Zlitan, a rebel spokesman said, after the rebels took control of
some parts of it. He said the situation was calmer than on Friday and the toll
remained 22 rebels killed.
"Zlitan is still surrounded by Gaddafi troops and they
are threatening the residents to surrender or have their women raped by
mercenaries," spokesman Ahmed Bani said.
It was not possible to independently verify the rebels'
claim. There was no immediate comment from Gaddafi's government.
Zlitan is one of three towns that are largely government
controlled between the rebel-held Misrata and the capital. Were it to fall, it
could allow the anti-Gaddafi uprising to spread from Misrata, the biggest rebel
outpost in western Libya, to Gaddafi's stronghold in Tripoli.
Gaddafi's forces also shelled for the first time the world
heritage-listed city of Gadamis, 600km southwest of Tripoli on the Tunisia and
Algerian border, overnight, opening a new front in the five-month civil war.
Rebels in various flashpoints also said there were no new
World powers have given mixed signals on how the war might
play out, with Russia trying to mediate reconciliation. Turkish Prime Minister
Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday he had offered a "guarantee" to Gaddafi
if he left Libya, but received no reply.
With diplomacy stalling, fighting was erupting on new
Rebels said the oasis town of Gadamis with a population of
about 7,000 people, mainly Berber, was under attack after an anti-government
protest in the old Roman city on Wednesday.
"Gadamis is being shelled by Gaddafi forces, according
to witnesses in the town," spokesman Juma Ibrahim said from the rebel-held
town of Zintan in the Western Mountains.
"This is a retaliation for anti-regime protests,"
The old town was de-populated by Gaddafi in the 1990s and
its inhabitants moved into modern buildings. It was not clear if the attack hit
the old town, a labyrinth of narrow, underground passages and houses known as
the "Pearl of the Desert".
The accounts from Gadamis could not be independently
verified and the government did not comment.
In the besieged port city of Misrata, a doctor at the Hekma
hospital said 31 people were killed and 110 wounded in shelling by pro-Gaddafi
forces on Friday. A rebel said Misrata was quiet on Saturday.
"Today there is complete quiet in the city after the
shelling continued late last night," a rebel called Reda said by telephone.
"But we expect bombardment at any time."
The United States accused some NATO allies on Friday of
failing to pull their weight.
"The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11
weeks into an operation against a poorly-armed regime in a sparsely-populated
country - yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring
the US, once more, to make up the difference," US Defense Secretary Robert
Gates said in a valedictory speech at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
Gates's exasperation has been echoed by rebels, who control
the east of Libya and some other areas but do not appear to pose an imminent
threat to Gaddafi's rule.
NATO-member Turkey said on Friday Gaddafi had no way out but
to leave Libya and offered him an exit.
"We ourselves have offered him this guarantee, via the
representatives we've sent. We told him we would help him to be sent wherever
he wanted to be sent. We would discuss the issue with our allies, according to
the response we receive. Unfortunately, we still haven't got a response from Gaddafi,"
Erdogan told the NTV broadcaster.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday said talks
were under way with Gaddafi aides on a "potential" transition, but
that "there is not any clear way forward yet".
Under pressure to come up with plans for a transitional
government if they succeed in ending Gaddafi's four-decade rule, the rebels
have said the onus is on foreign powers to hasten assistance.
Gaddafi has described the rebels as al Qaeda
terrorists and says foreign intervention is a front to grab the country's oil.