Forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi waged a second offensive against the western
town of Zawiyah on Saturday after rebels drove them out in a morning of fierce
fighting; while to the east, opponents of the Libyan strongman pushed toward his
In a second day of fierce fighting for control of Zawiyah, 50
km. west of Tripoli, government forces retreated to the outskirts early in the
day, but later mounted a counter-offensive.
Rebels said both attacks were
The city bore the signs of heavy fighting, with one building
completely burned and smoldering rubble littering the center. Other buildings
around the main square, the stronghold of rebel resistance, were riddled with
holes from large-caliber weapons.
Rebels in eastern Libya said they were
pushing further west after driving forces loyal to Gaddafi from the oil town of
Ras Lanuf on Friday. Opposition fighters said they had taken the town of Bin
Jawad some 525 km. east of Tripoli, and were moving on toward Sirte, Gaddafi’s
heavily guarded hometown 160 km. away.
The fight over Sirte is
likely to be fierce. The town is psychologically important. It is not only where
Gaddafi was born but a place he has fashioned into a second capital designed in
his own extravagant image.
“If Benghazi [rebels] can expand down into the
Gulf of Sirte... they’ve got a very good shot at independence at the least – or
maybe even overturning him at the most,” said Peter Zeihan, an analyst with the
US-based Stratfor think tank.
The latest fighting suggested that front
lines between government forces, including militia and mercenaries, and the
rebels, who are fighting with everything from captured tanks to sticks and
winning support from some police and soldiers along theway, were far from clear and could shift quickly.
Rebels seized Ras Lanuf
on Friday and even managed to down a fighter aircraft in Gaddafi’s service. The
BBC reported the plane had been shot down by a man in his 50s who was on his
first day manning a mobile anti-aircraft gun, which only had one barrel
Reuters correspondent Mohammed Abbas wrote in a brief message
from the scene: “I am at the wreckage of the aircraft in Ras Lanuf.” In a sign
of the increasing reports of brutality of both sides of this conflict, he said
the faces of the corpses appeared to have been ripped off.
anti-Gaddafi National Libyan Council said on Saturday it had named a
three-member crisis committee, which included a head of military affairs and one
for foreign affairs.
Omar Hariri, one of the officers who took part in
Gaddafi’s 1969 coup but was later jailed, was appointed head of the
Ali Essawi, a former ambassador to India who quit last month,
was put in charge of foreign affairs. Mahmoud Jebril, who had been involved in a
project among intellectuals to establish a democratic state, was named head of
the crisis committee, which aims at streamlining
Meanwhile, Libya has appointed former foreign minister
Ali Abdussalam Treki as its UN envoy in New York, replacing an ambassador who
had renounced the Gaddafi regime for inflicting violence on its own people, the
UN said on Friday.
“The secretary-general has received correspondence
from the Libyan authorities,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
correspondence names Dr. Treki as the person they wish to have as the permanent
representative of their country.”
It is not clear whether Treki, one of
Gaddafi’s most senior foreign policy advisers and a former president of the UN
General Assembly, will ever take up the post as ambassador to the United
In theory, Gaddafi has the right to name his UN
“Libya is a recognized member of the United Nations,” Nesirky
said. “When any country sends a letter naming the permanent representative, that
person is the person who will be recognized as the permanent
Nesirky added, however, that Treki would need to present
his credentials to Ban in New York to become the Libyan ambassador.
United States has a treaty with the United Nations covering visa issuance, but
Washington reserves the right to deny visas under certain
It is unclear whether the US State Department would be
prepared to give Treki a visa.
Economic pressure against Libya also
continued to mount this weekend. Britain extended a freeze on assets to a
further 20 members of Gaddafi’s entourage on Friday, and impounded around £100
million ($160m.) of Libyan currency.
Around £2 billion of assets
belonging to Libyan interests are believed to have been frozen in Britain under
sanctions against Gaddafi’s government after its violent crackdown on
The asset freeze was imposed last week and initially applied
only to Gaddafi and his immediate family. It now extends to 26
“The financial net is closing in on Colonel Gaddafi,” Chancellor
of the Exchequer George Osborne told BBC television.
“We’re denying him
access to banknotes, access to bank accounts, making sure he is held accountable
for what is taking place in Libya and also denied the means to persecute his own
Switzerland also banned transfers of money that could end up in
the hands of his family and associates.
“Switzerland wants to prevent any
financial support of Muammar Gaddafi and his circle,” the government said. It
will also be forbidden to give people linked to Gaddafi direct or indirect
access to money or economic resources, the government said.
On the ground
in Zawiyah, the atmosphere was tense and the situation appeared fluid as rebels
braced for more attacks.
A doctor in the city said at least 30 people,
mostly civilians, had been killed during fighting there, bringing to at least 60
the death toll from two days of battles.
In the central square, four
graves had been freshly dug.
The red, green and black flag of the
rebellion flew from many buildings in the square, where rebels shouted
anti-Gaddafi slogans atop tanks and armored personnel carriers captured from the
In the square, rebels showed a charred tank they had captured from
government forces earlier in the day. It was hit by a rebel rocket-propelled
grenade as Gaddafi forces tried to enter the square earlier, rebels
“The fighting has intensified and the tanks are shelling everything
on their way. They have shelled houses,” resident Abu Akeel said by telephone,
speaking of afternoon’s attack. “Now they are shelling a mosque where hundreds
of people are hiding. We can’t rescue anyone because the shelling is so
Outside the city, cars loaded with suitcases and boxes piled on
their roofs could be seen driving westward toward Libya’s border with Tunisia as
refugees continued to flee the violence.
Residents said it was difficult
to say how many people had been killed in two days of fighting.
government spokesman could not be reached for a comment.
“They took away
many bodies of injured and killed civilians,” said a local civilian who was
helping treat the wounded at a clinic. “I saw that. They were putting them in
Residents said Gaddafi’s forces stormed into residential
buildings and killed people inside their houses in order to secure sniper
positions on rooftops.
“They slaughtered people,” another resident said.
“But we tell Gaddafi that every time a martyr falls, there will be 10 to replace
The noise of loudspeakers calling on rebels to keep on fighting
could be heard through the telephone.
Rebels fighting Gaddafi’s
four-decade rule in Zawiyah said they had captured two tanks and three armored
personnel carriers from the army.
Inside a building that has served as
the rebel central command in the town, the rebels presented six men they said
were captured Gaddafi militia fighters.
Two of them were badly wounded,
with one standing in a pool of his own blood, which was dripping from his
Appearing terrified, they waited silently as the rebels looked
through their identification papers.