Gov't forces strike at rebels in east of country as concern grows for civilian suffering
struck at rebels in Libya's east and were reported attacking a
town near Tripoli on Monday as concern grew over civilian
suffering and a growing refugee exodus.
The United Nations said more than one million people fleeing
Libya and inside the country needed humanitarian aid, and
conditions in rebel-held Misrata town were particularly worrying
following attacks on it by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.
Offering a potential olive branch to rebels seeking to end
Gaddafi's long rule, one of his associates appealed to
opposition chiefs for dialogue, in a sign the ageing autocrat
may be ready to compromise with the unprecedented revolt.
The offer, rapidly dismissed by rebels, coincided with
warnings by Gaddafi that if he fell thousands of refugees from
Libya would "invade Europe".
Swiss-based exile group Libyan Human Rights Solidarity said
forces loyal to Gaddafi had launched a new attempt to capture
Zawiyah, a rebel-held town 50 km (30 miles) west of the capital.
It was impossible to verify the report because residents in
the town who had been speaking to journalists by telephone were
no longer reachable.
In the rebel-held city of Misrata, the wounded were being
treated on hospital floors because of a catastrophic shortage of
medical facilities in the besieged city, a resident said.
Misrata is the biggest city in the west not under the
control of Gaddafi, and its stand against a militia commanded by
his own son has turned it into a symbol of defiance.
Units of the 32nd brigade, which is led by Khamis Gaddafi,
on Sunday launched the fiercest attack on Misrata so far, with a
doctor there saying at least 18 people had been killed. Rebels
said they repelled the attack.
In the east, a warplane launched an air strike on the
outskirts of the rebel-held oil terminal town of Ras Lanuf 600
km (400 miles) east of the capital Tripoli, witnesses said.
"There was an aircraft, it fired two rockets there were no
deaths," Mokhtar Dobrug, a rebel fighter who witnessed the
strike, told Reuters.
The attack fitted the pattern of much of the fighting, which
has been erratic, with small groups engaging each other,
guerrilla-style, in hit and run raids. Air attacks have been
fitful and the bombing often inaccurate.
In some areas, advantage on the ground has swung back and
forth without conclusive result.
But the resilience of Gaddafi's troops in the face of
protests which started in mid-February and their ability to
launch a counter-attack has raised the prospect that the country
is heading for prolonged bloodshed.
"It's clear the government feels a sense of momentum on its
side," said military analyst Shashank Joshi, an associate fellow
at Britain's Royal United Services Institute.
"Government forces have more mobility than the rebels thanks
to airlift and a decent amount of road transport.
"That's blunted by the fact that we are seeing extremely
poor fighting skills by government forces, and reasonably
competent fighting by the rebels."
The United Nations and the European Union are dispatching
fact-finding missions to the north African nation, where reports
by residents of attacks on civilians by security forces have
triggered a war crimes probe and provoked global outrage.
Tens of thousands have fled across the border to Tunisia
since the uprising prompted a violent crackdown by security
In Geneva, UN aid coordinator Valerie Amos said more than
a million people fleeing Libya and inside the country need
Amos made clear that her first priority was Misrata, a town
of 300,000 which residents said had been attacked at the weekend
by government forces with tanks and missiles.
"Humanitarian organisations need urgent access now," said
Amos, who was in areas of Tunisia along the Libyan border at the
weekend. "People are injured and dying and need help
The rebels have called for U.N.-backed air strikes against
what they say are African soldiers-for-hire used by Gaddafi to
crush the uprising against his 41-year-old rule.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, on a visit to
Afghanistan, said any foreign military intervention in the
crisis in Libya should have international backing.
The Libyan government says it is fighting against al Qaeda
terrorists and maintains that its security forces have targeted
only armed individuals attacking state institutions and depots.
Witnesses said government forces advanced on rebel-held Ras
Lanuf in a counter-attack that forced residents to flee and
rebels to hide their weapons in the desert.
In Ras Lanuf, one angry man told rebels to go home, arguing
that they were bringing fighting closer to oil terminals.
Another complained of the rebels' inexperience, as one
opposition fighter lay on his back and fired an automatic weapon
at a government warplane flying overhead.
"Look at the way they're firing at the plane," he said.
"They have no experience, no leadership and no strategy."
The army was moving down the Mediterranean coastal road east
of the recaptured town of Bin Jawad, heading towards Ras Lanuf
which is about 60 km (40 miles) away, witnesses told Reuters.
Residents of Ras Lanuf, fearing assault by the army, were
leaving in cars laden with belongings on Monday and rebels said
they had moved weapons into the desert for safekeeping.
As the rival combatants squared off, the authorities
launched an appeal to the rebels in the east for dialogue, in
the clearest overture yet to their opponents.
Jadallah Azous Al-Talhi, a Libyan prime minister in the
1980s who is originally from eastern Libya, appeared on state
television reading an address to elders in Benghazi.
He asked them to "give a chance to national dialogue to
resolve this crisis, to help stop the bloodshed, and not give a
chance to foreigners to come and capture our country again."
Ahmed Jabreel, an aide to rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil,
said: "Any negotiations must be on the basis that Gaddafi will
step down. There can be no other compromise."
In an interview with the France 24 television station,
Gaddafi said Libya was an important partner for the West in
containing al Qaeda and illegal migrants trying to reach Europe.
"There are millions of blacks who could come to the
Mediterranean to cross to France and Italy, and Libya plays a
role in security in the Mediterranean," he said.
As the conflict escalated in Libya, U.S. crude oil rose to a
2-1/2-year high on Monday.
US crude for April rose as much as $1.90 to $106.32
a barrel, the highest price since September 2008, heightening
concerns that high energy prices may derail the global economic
recovery. Shipping sources said the unrest had forced the oil
ports of Brega and Ras Lanuf to close.