NATO bombs Gaddafi hometown as Libyan army retaliate

Rebels claim to have captured Sirte; Libyan TV: Gaddafi in Tripoli; rebels seize oil terminals; witnesses hear explosions in Sirte, Tripoli.

By REUTERS
March 28, 2011 11:29
3 minute read.
Libyan rebels outside Sirte

libyan rebels sirte 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces bombarded the Western Libyan city of Misrata on Monday, a rebel spokesman told Al Jazeera television.

Earlier Western forces backed up rebels in Sirte, Gaddafi's birthplace, bombing the town from the air and leading to several casualties, according to Libyan state news agency Jana.

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"The crusader and colonial bombing targeted inhabited areas in the city of Sabha at dawn on Monday, causing the destruction of several houses," the agency reported. "Ambulances and firefighter teams rushed to those areas."

"Sources at the Health Ministry in Sabha spoke of several casualties among civilians in those areas."

Early Monday morning, a Libyan rebel spokesperson said that Sirte had been captured. No independent verification of the rebel statement was immediately available.

A Reuters reporter in Sirte said on Monday there was no indication the city was under rebel control, despite reports from rebel headquarters in Benghazi that it had been captured.



"It looks pretty normal from what we have seen," said the reporter, on a Libyan government-organized trip to Sirte. He said he had seen some police and military in the town, but no signs of any fighting.

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Emboldened by the help of the air strikes, the rebels have rapidly reversed military losses in their five-week insurgency and regained control of all the main oil terminals in eastern Libya, as far as the town of Bin Jawad.

A Reuters reporter in Sirte heard four blasts on Sunday night. It was unclear if they were in the town or its outskirts.

The reporter also saw a convoy of 20 military vehicles including truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns leaving Sirte and moving westwards towards Tripoli, along with dozens of civilian cars carrying families and stuffed with personal belongings.

The advance along Libya's Mediterranean coast by a poorly armed and uncoordinated force of volunteer rebels suggested that Western strikes under a UN no-fly zone were shifting the battlefield dynamics dramatically, in the east at least.

The rebels are now back in control of the main oil terminals in the east -- Es Sider, Ras Lanuf, Brega, Zueitina and Tobruk -- while Gaddafi appears to be retrenching in the west.

Libyan state TV broadcast what it said was live footage of Gaddafi in a car in his Tripoli compound on Sunday, where hundreds of supporters waved green flags and chanted slogans. Gaddafi could not be seen in the white car but the TV said he was in it.

On Sunday, NATO agreed to take full command of military operations in Libya after a week of heated negotiations, officials said, as Washington seeks to scale back its role in another Muslim country after operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Western air strikes had "eliminated" Gaddafi's ability to move his heavy weapons.

Gates also raised the possibility that Gaddafi's government could splinter and said an international conference in London on Tuesday would discuss political strategies to help bring an end to Gaddafi's 41-year rule.

Libya accused NATO of "terrorizing" and killing its people as part of a global plot to humiliate and weaken the North African country.

The government says Western-led air attacks have killed more than 100 civilians, a charge denied by the coalition which says it is protecting civilians from Gadaffi's forces and targeting only military sites to enforce the no-fly zone.

"The terror people live in, the fear, the tension is everywhere. And these are civilians who are being terrorized every day," said Mussa Ibrahim, a Libyan government spokesman.

"We believe the unnecessary continuation of the air strikes is a plan to put the Libyan government in a weak negotiating position. NATO is prepared to kill people, destroy army training camps and army checkpoints and other locations."

Ibrahim acknowledged that rebel forces in the east were advancing westwards but declined to give any details on the retreat of government troops.

He said three Libyan civilian sailors were killed in a coalition air strike on a fishing harbor in the city of Sirte on Saturday.

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