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Libya: Gov counter-attacks, warplane
strikes town, one million need aid

Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

Rebel fighters jump away from shrapnel during heavy shelling by forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi near Bin Jawad, March 6, 2011.

RAS LANUF, Libya
Petroleumworld.com, Mar 07, 2011

Government forces 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 aging 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 forces.

In Geneva, U.N. aid coordinator Valerie Amos said more than a million people fleeing Libya and inside the country need humanitarian aid.

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 immediately."

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.

U.S. 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.

COUNTER-ATTACK

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 toward 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.

APPEAL LAUNCHED

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.

U.S. 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.



Story by Mohammed Abbas from Reuters. Additional reporting by Michael Georgy in Tripoli, Alexander Dziadosz in Ajdabiya, Mohammed Abbas in Ras Lanuf, Stefano Ambrogi in London, Nick Vinocur in Paris and Tom Pfeiffer in Benghazi; Writing by William Maclean and Giles Elgood ; Editing by Jon Hemming

Reuters
Mon Mar 7, 2011 11:39am EST

 

 

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