Gaddafi shells towns, rebels pinned down in east

TRIPOLI Tue Mar 22, 2011 7:07pm EDT

1 of 31. A Libyan holds a poster of Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi at a naval military facility damaged by coalition air strikes last night in eastern Tripoli, March 22, 2011. Editor's note: Picture taken on guided government tour.

Credit: Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

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TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Muammar Gaddafi's forces attacked two west Libyan towns, killing dozens, while rebels were pinned down in the east and NATO tried to resolve a dispute over who should lead the Western air campaign.

With anti-Gaddafi rebels struggling to capitalize on the ground on the strikes against Libyan tanks and air defenses from the air, Western countries had still to decide who would take over command once Washington pulled back in a few days.

In the latest fighting on Tuesday, Gaddafi's tanks shelled the rebel-held western town of Misrata and casualties included three children killed when their car was hit, residents said, adding the death toll for Monday alone had reached 40.

Residents painted a grim picture of the situation in Misrata, under siege by Gaddafi loyalists for weeks, with tanks in the city center and doctors operating on people with bullet and shrapnel wounds in hospital corridors.

"The situation here is very bad. Tanks started shelling the town this morning," a resident called Mohammed told Reuters by telephone from outside the city's hospital, adding: "Snipers are taking part in the operation too. A civilian car was destroyed killing three children on board, the oldest is aged 13 years."

Gaddafi, in his first appearance since the bombing campaign began, vowed to fight on. "We will be victorious in the end," he told crowds at his Tripoli compound who have volunteered to be human shields in a speech carried live television.

In the first Western air force loss of the campaign, a U.S. F-15E crashed in Libya overnight and its two crew members were rescued, the U.S. military said. The crash was likely to have been caused by mechanical failure and not hostile fire, it said.

Explosions and anti-aircraft fire have reverberated across Tripoli for the past three nights and state television reported several attacks by the "crusader enemy." Twenty Tomahawk missiles were fired at Libyan targets overnight, the U.S. military said.

A Reuters correspondent taken to a naval facility in east Tripoli by Libyan officials saw four Soviet-made missile carrier trucks which were destroyed. They were parked inside a building whose roof had collapsed, leaving piles of smoldering rubble.

"Yesterday six missiles and one bomb from a warplane hit this facility," said Captain Fathi al-Rabti, an officer at the facility. "It was a massive explosion."

REBELS PINNED DOWN IN EAST

Gaddafi's forces were trying to seize the western rebel-held town of Zintan near the Tunisian border in an attack using heavy weapons. One resident said 10 people were killed on Tuesday. People fled to seek shelter in mountain caves.

Security analysts say it is unclear what will happen if the Libyan leader digs in, especially since Western powers have made it clear they would be unwilling to see Libya partitioned between a rebel-held east and Gaddafi-controlled west.

Rebels in east Libya were stuck just outside Ajdabiyah on Tuesday, making no advance on the strategic town despite three nights of Western air strikes on the oil-producing state.

At the front line in the desert scrub about 5 km (3 miles) outside the town, gateway to the rebel-held east, fighters said air strikes were helping to cripple Gaddafi's heavy amour.

When asked why rebel units had not advanced, Ahmed al-Aroufi, a rebel fighter at the front line, told Reuters: "Gaddafi has tanks and trucks with missiles."

Commenting on the air campaign to protect civilians in this uprising against Gaddafi's 41-year rule, Aroufi said: "We don't depend on anyone but God, not France or America. We started this revolution without them through the sweat of our own brow, and that is how we will finish it."

Sheltering from tank fire behind sand dunes near Ajdabiyah, rebel fighters lack leadership, experience and any clear plan of action. One fighter, Mohamed Bhreka, asked who was in command, shrugged and said: "Nobody is. We are volunteers. We just come here. There is no plan."

With Western allies reluctant to send in ground forces, it was unclear whether such a disorganized group could dislodge tanks concealed from the air in densely packed towns.

Washington, wary of being drawn into another war after long campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, has ruled out specific action to overthrow Gaddafi, although France said on Monday it hoped the Libyan government would collapse from within.

COORDINATING ROLE

U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday won British and French support for a NATO role in the air campaign as Washington seeks to cede operational control within days. France had been against a NATO role for fear of alienating Arab support.

Turkey had also opposed a NATO command role as it said coalition air strikes had gone beyond what was authorized by the United Nations. However, its concerns had largely been settled, a senior U.S. official told reporters.

Another U.S. official said Washington believed NATO would effectively have to take operational, if not political, control due to its superior command structure.

"They are still looking at NATO," one U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It could be a subtle NATO lead but still a NATO lead."

President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said France and the United States had agreed on how to use NATO command structures but did not agree any further details.

France and Britain had agreed to put together a "political steering body" of foreign ministers of countries participating in the coalition and the Arab League which would meet in the next few days in Brussels, London or Paris and hold regular meetings, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told parliament.

Two Qatari fighters and two 17 transport aircraft landed in Crete on Tuesday and the U.S. military said the aircraft would be "up and flying" over Libya by the weekend. That would be the first direct outside Arab involvement in the operation.

Four more Qatari aircraft and 24 UAE warplanes were also expected in Crete on their way to a forward base in Sicily.

Washington expected more Arab states to contribute to the no-fly zone in the coming days, a senior U.S. official said.

"GADDAFI'S LIES"

Rifts were growing internationally over the U.N. resolution, with Russia saying the U.N. Security Council would discuss on Thursday whether Western countries were going beyond the bounds of their authority to intervene to protect civilians.

China and Brazil urged a ceasefire amid fears of civilian casualties and Algeria called for an immediate end to military intervention in Libya, calling the action "disproportionate."

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said those responsible for civilian deaths in Libya should pray for their souls.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday during a visit to Moscow some people in Russia seemed to believe what he termed Gaddafi's "lies" about civilian casualties in Libya.

Libyan officials have said air strikes have killed dozens of civilians. They say the rebels are al Qaeda militants assisted by Western powers who are trying to steal Libya's oil.

In Tripoli, Reuters correspondents said some residents, emboldened by a third night of air strikes, dropped their customary praise of Gaddafi and said they wanted him gone.

"My children are afraid but I know it's changing," one man said. "This is the end. The government has no control any more."

(Reporting by Mohammed Abbas and Angus MacSwan in Benghazi, Maria Golovnina and Michael Georgy in Tripoli, Hamid Ould Ahmed and Christian Lowe in Algiers, Tom Perry in Cairo; David Brunnstrom in Brussels, Phil Stewart in Moscow; Writing by Peter Millership and Jon Hemming; Editing by Andrew Dobbie)

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Comments (33)
ayesee wrote:
Reuters, why do you think that any reasonably informed person would believe that Gaddafi’s media is a legitimate news source of even average trustworthiness?

Mar 21, 2011 9:19pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
ayesee wrote:
Reuters, why do you think that any reasonably informed person would believe that Gaddafi’s media is a legitimate news source of even average trustworthiness?

Mar 21, 2011 9:19pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
‘A matter of dignity a matter of honor..’ = Pure Cowardice.

‘A matter of dignity a matter of honor, I can’t use Arab forces against Arab people.” Major General Hamdy Bekhit (Egypt) (On helping Libyans against Gadhafi)

The following truth should be noted.

“The true line of development lies ….not in consulting the selfish interests of neutrals (Arab states) but in abolishing neutrality. Murders would increase if the Murderer could count on the neutrality of bystanders (Arab States) and it is the same with war. The neutral (Arab States), in fact, shirks his share of the burden of humanity.”

19th March 1918, Lord Parker of Waddington, speaking in the English House of Lords on the notions surrounding the establishment of the League of Nations after millions died to end all wars (again).

I included the (Arab states) for clarity.

The obscenity of a leading Egyptian Politician saying we cannot be involved in combating Gadhafi forces for it would be Arab (Muslim) against Arab (Muslim) but at the same time demanding the West, so called infidels, risk their lives, at very great expense to protect the innocent Arab (Muslims) against tyranny is so sickening as to give rise to the thought to demand immediate cessation of the West’s involvement and to sit silent as Arab (Muslims) continue, as it can be clearly proved historically since time immemorial to kill other Arabs (Muslims) without restraint.

One only has to look back only weeks were the Egyptian political elite as elsewhere in Africa and the Middle East, these same elites have and continue to unleash Arab (Muslim) against Arab (Muslim) which has and continues to result is unarmed civilians being killed.

The complete twisted logic and madness in such a statement ‘“A matter of dignity a matter of honor..’ beggars belief when it is Arab (Muslim) killing Arab (Muslim) in the first place.

On top of this we have the Arab league demanding a no fly zone, then it is imposed the Arab league demand it be imposed in such a way as to keep those imposing it in continual mortal jeopardy by not militarily removing real threats to those who have to actually put their lives on the line to protect Arabs (Muslims).

Arabs (Muslims) you want increased independence you have to finally accept it is you who have to pay the price of eternal vigilance and an understanding tyranny knows no boundaries because tyranny cannot survive, as long as diametrically opposed Democratic States exist to expose the self-serving nature of these regimes of terror.

Arabs States – Step Up do not leave those who have sacrificed their lives for independence again as in the past have their dreams squashed by apathy for the plight of others be they Arab or not.

Mar 21, 2011 9:26pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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