(Libyan troops loyal to Muammar Qaddafi used artillery and helicopter gunships in their effort to block the rebels’ advance west from the oil hub of Ras Lanuf toward the leader’s hometown of Sirte.
Rebel fighters battled reinforced pro-Qaddafi troops yesterday around Bin Jawad, 110 miles (160 kilometers) east of Sirte, as ambulances rushed the wounded to the hospital in rebel-controlled Ras Lanuf, according to an Associated Press reporter on the scene. At least six people were killed in the fighting, and a French journalist for France 24 TV was among 60 wounded, AP said.
Clashes during the past two days have become more deadly as the rebels moved along the Libyan coast toward Tripoli and government troops escalated their use of force in attempting to retake the rebel-held cities of Misurata, about 90 miles east of the capital, and Zawiyah to the west. Oil last week rose to the highest since 2008 as the fighting intensified in Africa’s third-largest crude producer.
In Washington, Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts, Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and John McCain of Arizona, senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, pressed for actions to ground Qaddafi’s air force such as imposing a no-fly zone even though Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned last week that would require a sizable military operation.
“I have great respect for Secretary Gates and the outstanding job that he has done,” McCain said on ABC’s “This Week” program. “We can’t risk allowing Qaddafi to massacre people from the air.”
The nature of the conflict has shifted in recent days from civilian protests coming under attack to combat between two armed groups seeking to control territory. Opposition forces drove pro-government troops back to the outskirts of Misurata late yesterday, Abu Moad, a resident, said by telephone. Earlier, Qaddafi’s forces broke through the rebel lines, he said.
Both Zawiyah and Misurata remained in opposition hands after being shelled by Qaddafi’s forces, rebel council spokesman Abdulhafid Ghoga said at a news conference yesterday in Benghazi. Libyan state TV accused rebels of using civilians as human shields.
Qaddafi has reinforced his forces with mercenaries from Chad, Somalia, Niger, and Mali, Ghoga said. Qaddafi’s son, Saif, denied using foreign fighters during an interview on Al Jazeera.
Anti-Qaddafi forces on March 5 took control of Ras Lanuf, 400 miles east of Tripoli, where they shot down two helicopters and a fighter jet. The BBC showed video of rebels at the crash site for the jet and celebrating in the city.
The town has a tanker terminal that exports about 200,000 barrels of oil a day. It also contains Libya’s biggest refinery, with a capacity of 220,000 barrels a day, more than half the country’s total output, according to the International Energy Agency.
Crude oil for April delivery increased $2.51 to $104.42 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange on March 4, the highest settlement since Sept. 26, 2008. The contract rose 6.7 percent last week, the third straight advance, and is up 30 percent from a year ago.
U.K. Team Detained
Libyan rebels detained and sent home eight members of what U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague in a statement called a “small British diplomatic team.” The group consisted of one person carrying a diplomatic passport and seven members of the U.K. Special Forces, according to Al Jazeera.
Hague said the team was sent to “to initiate contacts” and had “experienced difficulties.” He said another team will be sent “in due course.” Rebel council spokesman Ghoga said the group would “welcome” a U.K. delegation in the future.
Heavy machine-gun fire broke out in Tripoli before dawn, the AP reported. State television, which described renewed gunfire later in the day as celebrations for important victories, broadcast live footage from Tripoli’s main Green Square, showing several thousand Qaddafi loyalists, some waving green flags and posters of the man who has ruled the north-African country for more than four decades.
In Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city in the rebel-held east of the country, a council of opposition leaders held its first formal meeting March 5. The country’s former justice minister, Moustafa Abdel Jalil, was named head of the group.
“The morale is very high, but Benghazi is subject to a media war and there is an infiltration of Qaddafi loyalists,” Hamza Emad el-Din, an Egyptian doctor who entered Libya late last month said by telephone yesterday from the city.
Emad El-Din said he was referring to conflicting reports of rebel and loyalist gains and to an explosion at an ammunition dump near the city on March 4. Twenty-four people died in the blast, the local Yosberides newspaper reported on its website, citing an unidentified medical worker.
A spokesman for the opposition army forces, Abdullah al- Mahdi, said on March 5 that 6,000 people have died since the uprising began in mid-February, without saying how he obtained this figure. The United Nations estimated that 1,000 people had died as of Feb. 26.
The opposition’s interim council late on March 5 named Omar Hariri, Ali al-Issawi and Mahmoud Jibril to a three-member steering committee, Ghoga told reporters.
Former Qaddafi Allies
Hariri, who conspired with Qaddafi in the 1969 coup that overthrew Libya’s king, was jailed in 1975 for his role in a failed effort to topple the Libyan leader. Al-Issawi, who quit last month as Libya’s ambassador to India, was one of the first government officials to break with Qaddafi, and Jibril is the former head of a leading Libyan research organization.
Mohammed Abdul-Rahman Shalgham, the Libyan UN ambassador who broke with Qaddafi last month, will be the council’s representative at the world body, Al Jazeera reported. Issawi is expected to arrive in Cairo yesterday to begin lobbying the global community to recognize the council’s legitimacy, Al Jazeera said.
“The interim council’s goal is to avoid a leadership vacuum,” Naeem Gheriany, a nuclear scientist and Libyan- American activist, said in a telephone interview from Washington March 5. “It’s a challenging task, but the council’s members are credible and have a lot of support from diplomats and Libyans who are able to speak freely.”
Gheriany, a member of Libya’s opposition abroad who has been in exile since 1980, said that Libyans won’t “accept anything short of a complete end” to Qaddafi’s regime.
In Washington, Kerry said Qaddafi is “cornered” and “obviously remains lethal.”
“Yes, there is something of a stand-off,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program. “That’s the way it could go for some period of time.”
He said there are ways to ground Qaddafi’s air force short of patrolling Libyan airspace. “One could crater the airports and the runways and leave them incapable of using them for a period of time,” he said.
Stephen Hadley, who served as national security adviser to President George W. Bush, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program that a better alternative to a no-fly zone might be to provide arms to the rebels, including anti-aircraft systems “so they can create their own no-fly zone rather than the United States have to do it.”
More than 150,000 people, most of them foreign workers, have fled Libya to neighboring Egypt and Tunisia since Feb. 19, creating a crisis in the border areas, the UN refugee agency said on March 1. The U.S., U.K. and France said they were sending aircraft to deliver humanitarian aid and to help evacuate refugees.
Four U.S. military flights yesterday transported 328 evacuees from Tunisia, according to State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley, in a message on Twitter.
The Libyan revolt is the bloodiest in a wave of popular uprisings in the Middle East in the past two months that have toppled Tunisia’s former leader, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
At least 52 people were wounded in anti-government protests in Yemen yesterday, according to Al Jazeera. The violence came as tens of thousands of protesters continued their calls for the immediate resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The U.S. State Department updated its travel warning, authorizing the departure of embassy families and non-essential personnel and saying the “ability to assist U.S. citizens in the event of a crisis in Yemen is very limited.”
In Bahrain, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who is leading talks with the Shiite-led opposition, has “high confidence” in reaching a political settlement, according to a government statement. He indicated that the planned national dialogue may take weeks or months.
--With assistance from Mariam Fam in Cairo, Massoud A. Derhally in London, Zahraa Alkhalisi, Zainab Fattah and Shaji Mathew in Dubai, Dahlia Kholaif in Kuwait and Nadeem Hamid and David Lerman in Washington. Editor: Terry Atlas, John Brinsley
To contact the reporters on this story: Ola Galal in Cairo at email@example.com; Alaa Shahine in Dubai at firstname.lastname@example.org
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