Government forces attacked rebels with rockets, tanks and warplanes on Libya’s
western and eastern fronts on Tuesday, intensifying their offensive to crush the
revolt against ruler Muammar Gaddafi.RELATED:'Strikes
on Libya rebels like Israel's crackdown on
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In besieged Zawiyah, the closest
rebel-held city to Tripoli, trapped residents cowered from the
“Fighting is still going on now.
Gaddafi’s forces are
using tanks. There are also sporadic air strikes... They could not reach the
center of the town, which is still in the control of the revolutionaries,” a
resident said by phone. “Many buildings have been destroyed, including mosques.
About 40 to 50 tanks are taking part in the bombardment.”
In the east,
much of which is under rebel control, warplanes bombed rebel positions around
the oil port of Ras Lanuf.
Rebel euphoria seemed to have
“People are dying out there. Gaddafi’s forces have rockets and
tanks,” Abdel Salem Muhammad, 21, told Reuters near Ras Lanuf.
this?” he said of his light machine gun. “This is no good.”
leadership said that if Gaddafi stepped down within 72 hours, it would not seek
to bring him to justice.
Earlier, the rebels said they had rejected an
offer from the Libyan leader to negotiate his surrender of power. The government
called such reports “absolute nonsense.”
Rising casualties and the
threats of hunger and a refugee crisis increased pressure on foreign governments
to act, but they struggled to agree on a strategy for dealing with the turmoil,
many fearful of moving from sanctions alone to military action.
and France led a drive at the UN for a no-fly zone that would prevent Gaddafi
from unleashing air raids or moving reinforcements by air. The Arab League and
several Gulf states have also called for such a step.
“It is unacceptable
Gaddafi unleashes so much violence on his own people, and we
are all gravely concerned about what would happen if he were to try to do that
on an even greater basis,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague
Russia and China, which have veto power in the UN Security Council,
are cool toward the idea of a no-fly zone.
The US government, whose
interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan enraged many of the world’s Muslims, said
it was weighing up military options and that action should be taken only with
Critics at home and abroad have accused the Obama
administration of not doing enough to bring about Gaddafi’s
“Whatever you do, the risks are great,” said Stephen Grand, an
expert at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington. “But you can’t
just walk into a civil war and expect to stop it... Still, doing nothing is not
a viable alternative.”
Hafiz Ghoga, spokesman for the rebel National
Libyan Council, told a news conference in the rebel base of Benghazi: “We will
complete our victory when we are afforded a no-fly zone. If there was also
action to stop him [Gaddafi] from recruiting mercenaries, his end would come
US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said any
implementation of a no-fly zone would involve a large military operation,
including strikes on Libyan air defenses.
But Douglas Barrie, military
aerospace expert at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, said
destroying air defenses was not a prerequisite.
“There’s no hard-and-fast
rule in the establishment of a no-fly zone that you have to go in and take out
all of your opponent’s air defenses,” he said. “It’s desirable in that you would
minimize the risks to your own air assets, but you don’t have to do it. It comes
down to how much risk you are willing to accept.”
Rebels still controlled
the central square of Zawiyah, 50 km. west of Tripoli, on Tuesday and were using
megaphones to urge residents to defend their positions, a Ghanaian worker who
fled the town on Tuesday said.
A Libyan man who lives abroad said he had
spoken by phone on Tuesday to a friend in Zawiyah who described desperate
“Many buildings are completely destroyed, including hospitals,
electricity lines and generators,” he said. “People cannot run away, it’s
cordoned off. They cannot flee.
All those who can fight are fighting,
Children and women are being hidden.”
strikes hit at rebels behind the no-man’s-land between the coastal towns of Ras
Lanuf and Bin Jawad, 550 km. east of Tripoli and the site of oil
One strike smashed a house in a residential area of Ras Lanuf,
gouging a big hole in the ground floor.
The rebel army – a rag-tag outfit
largely made up of young volunteers and military defectors – made swift gains in
the first week of the uprising that saw them take control of the east and
challenge the government near Tripoli. But their momentum appears to have
stalled as Gaddafi’s troops have pushed back with heavy weapons.
said government forces had dug in their tanks near Bin Jawad while rebels
retreated to Ras Lanuf. The two towns are about 60 km.
apart on the
strategic coastal road along the Mediterranean Sea.
The emerging front
line divides the country along ancient regional lines – Cyrenaica in the west
and Tripolitania in the east – with key oil facilities stuck in the
Gaddafi has denounced the rebels as drug-addled youths or
al-Qaida-backed terrorists, and said he will die in Libya rather than
The eastern city of Benghazi looks to have firmly thrown off
control by Gaddafi, but the leader looks to have managed to clamp down on unrest
in Tripoli and is besieging and battling to cement his control in nearby
“If he leaves Libya immediately, during 72 hours, and stops the
bombardment, we as Libyans will step back from pursuing him for crimes,” Mustafa
Abdel Jalil, head of the rebel National Libyan Council, told Al-Jazeera.