Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s warplanes bombed the Benghazi airport, rebels said, bringing the war to the opposition capital for the first time since loyalist forces were driven out of the city last month.
Gadhafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, scoffed at yesterday’s United Nations Security Council discussions about authorizing a no-fly zone. “It’s too late,” he said in an interview with EuroNews television, according to a transcript on its website. “In 48 hours, we will have finished our military operation. We are at the gates of Benghazi.”
His timetable may be optimistic, since his forces were still facing rebel resistance 100 miles away, in the gateway city of Ajdabiya, which the government said it controlled. Libya’s state-run television appealed to residents of Benghazi, a city of 1 million, to support government troops.
There have been few signs of rebels making defensive preparations on the coastal city’s outskirts, the Associated Press reported. The International Committee of the Red Cross yesterday pulled its staff from Benghazi and moved to Tobruk, near the Egyptian border, it said in a statement on its website.
“We will see a real genocide if the international community does not move quickly,” Libya’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, who is allied with the rebel movement, told reporters in New York as the Security Council debated behind closed doors.
Libyan government forces continued to fight pockets of rebel resistance Ajdabiya, a city 100 miles from Benghazi, and attacked the blockaded city of Misrata, the last rebel holdout near Tripoli.
Libya’s crude oil exports may be halted for “many months” because of damage to facilities and international sanctions, the International Energy Agency said March 15. Crude oil for April delivery rose 80 cents, or 0.8 percent, to settle at $97.98 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil is 20 percent higher than a year ago.
“The situation in Benghazi is calm,” Essam Gheriani, a spokesman for the rebels, said by phone yesterday from the city. “We are not concerned by what Saif al-Islam said. Our armed forces have taken all the necessary measures to protect Benghazi. Gadhafi has been trying to take over Misrata for two weeks. How would he manage in Benghazi that is a much bigger city than Misrata?”
Members of the rebel’s leadership group, the Interim Transitional National Council, said they still hope for help from the U.N. Security Council. “I don’t believe that any member of the Security Council could take the position of a spectator when people are being killed daily and cities demolished,” he said. “What are they waiting for before intervening?”
The Security Council was meeting through the afternoon on Libya, with Russia proposing that the body issue a formal call for a cease-fire. French President Nicolas Sarkozy sent a letter to leaders of other council nations saying it is “high time” to respond to the Libya situation with a no-fly zone.
“Together, we can save the martyred people of Libya,” he said, according to an e-mail from the French Embassy in Washington. “It is now a matter of days, if not hours.”
Dabbashi said in New York that he has information that Gadhafi-paid African mercenaries are headed toward Benghazi in a convoy of 400 vehicles. The Security Council needs to impose the no-fly zone, and go further in authorizing air attacks on Gadhafi’s ground troops, within “10 hours.”
“We are moving as rapidly as we can” at the U.N. to consider a range of actions, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters yesterday in Cairo. “We won’t know until there’s an actual vote,” possibly today, she said. “And then we’ll see what that message means to Gadhafi and his regime, and what it means in terms of support and encouragement to the opposition.”
In Benghazi, three fighter jets from Gadhafi’s fleet carried out air strikes on the airport that is currently being used by the rebels as an airbase, breaking off their attack amid anti-aircraft fire, Ahmed Omar, a military spokesman for the opposition, said yesterday by telephone. Rebel aircraft bombed government forces near Ajdabiya yesterday, Al Jazeera television said. Misrata was shelled by government tanks from three directions early yesterday, Reda Almountasser, a resident, said by phone.
In his EuroNews interview, Gadhafi said rebels should flee to Egypt while they can. “We have no intention of killing them or taking revenge on these traitors who have betrayed our people,” he said. “We say to them that they can run into Egypt quite safely because Libya no longer belongs to them. A lot of them have already left for Egypt.”
Libyan rebels March 15 seized a ship carrying 25,000 metric tons of fuel that was heading to Tripoli, Gheriani said. The fuel will be used in power plants and other facilities in rebel- held areas, he said.
The Anwaar Afriqya, with a crew of 22, was hijacked and diverted to the port of Tobruk near the border with Egypt, where it is now docked, GNMTC, a Libyan-owned shipping line, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. The ship holds 23,800 metric tons of gasoline loaded in Greece, it said. It was not immediately clear if GNMTC was referring to the same vessel.
Foreign Ministers from the Group of Eight nations failed to agree March 15 on imposing a no-fly zone. In Paris, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe of France, which along with the U.K. has pressed for action against Gadhafi, said he couldn’t persuade Russia to agree to a no-fly zone as other allies, including Germany, raised objections to military intervention. Juppe hosted a meeting of his G-8 counterparts March 15 in Paris.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini proposed the convening of a European, Arab and African summit to discuss the almost monthlong fighting in Libya, Al-Jazeera reported yesterday.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said leaving Gadhafi in power would send a “terrible message” not only to the Libyan people but also to those in the region who desire democracy and stability.
Pushing a no-fly resolution through the U.N. Security Council will not be “simple,” Cameron told lawmakers in Parliament in London yesterday. “I am not arguing a no-fly zone is a simple solution to the problem, of course it’s not.”
Turmoil continued elsewhere in the region.
Bahrain security forces drove protesters from their rallying point at the Pearl Roundabout in Manama leaving two demonstrators and two police officers dead. Security forces shot protesters in Yemen, according to al-Arabiya television. And about 1,000 people in Saudi Arabia’s eastern city of al-Qatif defied a ban on demonstrations yesterday and protested peacefully to demand the country’s troops end their incursion into Bahrain.
President Barack Obama called Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Saudi King Abdullah to express his “deep concern” about violent clashes between authorities and anti-government protesters, White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
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