The Malta Independent 4 August 2020, Tuesday

Gaddafi Pushes ahead as Arab League calls for no-fly zone

Malta Independent Sunday, 13 March 2011, 00:00 Last update: about 7 years ago

Moammar Gaddafi tightened his grip on the coastal road linking his territory to the rebel-controlled east yesterday, pushing forward the front line in Libya’s gruelling internal conflict and showing off control of devastated towns just seized from the opposition.

The Arab League asked the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to protect the rebels, increasing pressure on the US and other Western powers to take action that most have expressed deep reservations about.

The 22-nation league said after an emergency meeting in Cairo that it was asking the United Nations “to carry out its responsibility”.

Anticipating little international action, the rebels said they were trying to buy arms they would need if the no-fly zone was not imposed.

“If the international community chooses to play the role of bystander, watching all the Libyan people being killed and cities destroyed, then we will have to defend ourselves,” Adbel-Hafidh Ghoga, a spokesman for the rebels’ national council, told reporters in the eastern city of Benghazi.

The Libyan government took reporters by plane and bus to the town of Bin Jawwad, the scene of brutal battles six days ago between insurgents and Gaddafi loyalists using artillery, rockets and helicopter gunships.

A police station was completely destroyed, its windows shattered, walls blackened and burned and broken furniture inside. A nearby school had gaping holes in the roof and a wall. Homes nearby were empty and cars were overturned or left as charred hulks in the road.

Rubble filled the streets and a sulphurous smell hung in the air.

The tour continued in Ras Lanouf, an oil port of boxy, sand-coloured buildings with satellite dishes on top.

The area was silent and devoid of any sign of life, with laundry still fluttering on lines strung across balconies. About 50 soldiers or militia members in 10 white Toyota pickups, holding up portraits of Gaddafi, smeared with mud as camouflage guarded it. A playground was strewn with bullet casings and medical supplies looted from a nearby pharmacy whose doors had been shot open.

The defeat at Ras Lanouf, which had been captured by rebels a week ago and only fell after days of fierce fighting and shelling, was a major setback for opposition forces who just a week ago held the entire eastern half of the country and were charging toward the capital.

A massive column of black smoke billowed from Ras Lanouf’s blazing oil refinery. A Libyan colonel asserted the rebels had detonated it as they retreated.

Gen. Abdel-Fattah Younis, the country’s interior minister before defecting, told The Associated Press that Gaddafi’s forces had driven deeper into rebel territory than at any time since the opposition seized control of the east.

He said they were about 77 kilometres past Ras Lanouf and about 40 kilometres outside Brega, the site of a major oil terminal.

Younis vowed a comeback, saying “we should be back today or at the latest tomorrow.”

But an Associated Press reporter in the area saw fewer rebel supporters, suggesting morale had taken a hit as the momentum shifted in favour of the regime.

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the head of the opposition’s interim governing council based in Benghazi, pleaded with the international community to approve a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent Gaddafi’s forces from launching air attacks and to impose restrictions that would bar the long time Libya leader from bringing in more weapons and foreign fighters.

The rebels also sent a delegation to Cairo to lobby for a no-fly zone at the Arab League. Rebel spokeswoman Tahani Suleiman said the group had met with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and he had promised to support the idea.

Asked if he supports an international intervention in an Arab country, Moussa replied: “You are talking about ... a military intervention. I am talking about a humanitarian action. It is about standing by the Libyan people with a no-fly zone in their fight for freedom against an increasingly inhumane regime.”

The European Union, which has said any such decision would need sufficient diplomatic backing from the Arab League and other regional organisations, sent its foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, to Cairo for the meeting.

The Obama administration has said a no-fly zone may have limited impact, and there is far from international agreement on it.

It would require US and possibly allies’ aircraft to first attack Libya’s anti-aircraft defences, a move tantamount to starting war.

Gaddafi has warned the United States and other Western powers not to intervene, saying thousands in his country would die and “we will turn Libya into another Vietnam”.

Government forces also have recaptured the strategic town of Zawiya, near Tripoli, sealing off a corridor around the capital, which has been Gaddafi’s main stronghold.

On Friday they took reporters to Zawiya’s main square, which had been a key centre of resistance to the west of the capital. It bore the scars of battle and the streets were lined with tanks as loyalists waving green flags rallied amid a heavy presence of uniformed pro-Gaddafi troops and snipers. There was talk of rebel bodies having been bulldozed away, and the dome and minaret of the nearby mosque were demolished. (AP)

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