Libyan rebels repel attack by gov't forces in Zawiya

Gaddafi deploys forces along south, west borders in attempt to regain control; Austria freezes $1.6b. in assests; France urges humanitarian aid.

By REUTERS, JPOST.COM STAFF
March 1, 2011 12:24
3 minute read.
Libya: Rebel fighters wait for pro-Gaddafi forces

Libya rebels waiting for a fight 311 Reu. (photo credit: Asmaa Waguih / Reuters)

Opponents to the leadership of Muammar Gaddafi on Tuesday succeeded in repelling an attack by government forces on the Libyan city of Zawiya 50 kilometers west of Tripoli, The Associated Press reported.

Reports of casualties were unknown. The rebels and government forces were armed with heavy machine guns, anti-aircraft weapons and armored tanks.

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Gaddafi deployed forces to a western border area in defiance of Western military and economic pressure, raising fears that one of the bloodiest Arab revolts may become more violent still.

Barely 12 hours after the United States said it was moving warships and air forces closer to the north African oil exporting country, Libyan forces re-asserted their presence at the remote Dehiba southern border crossing on Tuesday, decorating the border post with green Libyan flags.

Reporters on the Tunisian side saw Libyan army vehicles, and soldiers armed with Kalashnikov rifles. The previous day, there was no Libyan security presence at the border crossing. Dehiba is about 60 km (40 miles) from the town of Nalut.

In another part of the west, residents said pro-Gaddafi forces deployed to reassert control of Nalut, about 60 km from the Tunisian border in western Libya, to ensure it did not fall into the hands of anti-Gaddafi protesters.



Suspicions grew that the veteran leader, in power for four decades, does not understand the strength of the forces now massed against him.

"All my people love me. They would die to protect me," he told the the ABC network and the BBC on Monday, dismissing the armed muscle of a rebellion against his 41-year rule that has ended his control over eastern Libya.

The United States said on Monday it was moving ships and planes closer to the country and British Prime Minister David Cameron said his government would work to prepare a "no-fly" zone to protect the Libyan people.

The United States, whose Sixth Fleet operates out of Italy, said it was working on contingency plans, including humanitarian assistance. Analysts said military action against Gaddafi was unlikely.

Injecting a note of caution into Western military thinking, France said humanitarian aid must be the priority in Libya rather than military action to oust Gaddafi.

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The French government has sent two airplanes with medical equipment and staff to the Libyan city of Benghazi, now in the hands of anti-Gaddafi rebels, and more planes are to follow, government spokesman Francois Baroin said.

Asked about the possibility of military action to dislodge Gaddafi, Baroin told France 2 television: "It's not a priority. The priority is humanitarian aid, it's no longer diplomacy."

In addition, Austria froze assets of Gaddafi's family and other associates subject to European Union sanctions, the country's central bank (OeNB) said on Tuesday.

"The OeNB states that around 1.2 billion euros ($1.66 billion) in Libyan assets are deposited in Austrian financial institutions," the OeNB said in a statement. "What part of this relates to people on the sanctions list still needs to be clarified."

Despite his continued hold on Tripoli, his last remaining stronghold, Gaddafi's power to influence events in his vast desert country has shrunk dramatically in the past two weeks.

Numerous tribal leaders, officials, military officers and army units have defected to the rebels, taking with them large swathes of the country including the main energy-producing east. Sanctions will squeeze his access to funds.


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