TRIPOLI (Reuters) - The Libyan opposition capital Benghazi was calm on Wednesday evening after a deadline set by Muammar Gaddafi’s army in an apparent threat of attack passed without incident, residents said.
Libyan television said the ultimatum warned the population to avoid rebel-held buildings and weapons dumps after midnight local time (2200 GMT) because the army was coming ”to support you and to cleanse your city from armed gangs.
Benghazi residents poured scorn on the announcement. Several recent reports on Libyan television have not been borne out. It said on Tuesday that pro-Gaddafi masses were rallying in the city, which residents said never happened.
“This is psychological warfare,” said resident Faiza Ali, contacted by telephone.
Jibril al-Huweidi, doctor at al-Jalaa Hospital in Benghazi confirmed the city was quiet.
“Some ambulances are shuttling between Benghazi and Ajdabiya,” he said, referring to a city further west where loyalist and opposition forces clashed again on Wednesday.
“They could not have made it repeatedly back and forth tonight if the evil forces were closing in on Benghazi.”
Gaddafi himself seemed to undercut the ultimatum on his state-run Al-Libya television by telling Lebanon’s LBC TV he did not expect a battle in Benghazi, where he said Libyan people have been helping get rid of “al Qaeda” elements.
The ultimatum appeared as a text on the screen of Al-Libya television telling inhabitants of the eastern city that the army was coming.
“It urges you to keep out by midnight of areas where the armed men and weapon storage areas are located,” it said.
In New York, anti-Gaddafi Libyan diplomat, Ibrahim Dabbashi, told reporters that the international community had 10 hours to act against Gaddafi’s troops.
“We think that ... in the coming hours, we will see a real genocide in Ajdabiyah if the international community does not move quickly and prevent him from attacking it with a large force,” he said.
Libyan rebels fought back against Gaddafi’s troops around the eastern town of Ajdabiyah on Wednesday, hampering their push toward Benghazi. Government forces captured Ajdabiyah, 90 miles south of Benghazi on the Gulf of Sirte, on Tuesday.
Reporting by Ali Abdelati and Souhail Karam, writing by Tom Heneghan, Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton