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News, April 2011
Qaddafi Compound Hit in Fresh NATO Air Strikes, Heavy Fighting in Misrata and Libyan Mountains
Heavy fighting in Misrata and Libyan mountains
By Lin Noueihed
TRIPOLI | Mon Apr 25, 2011, 6:41pm EDT
TRIPOLI (Reuters) -
Libya's rebel-held city of Misrata won no respite from two months of bitter siege as Muammar Gaddafi's forces bombarded the city and battled rebel fighters, despite pulling out of the city center.
Gaddafi's forces were also pounding Berber towns in Libya's Western Mountains with artillery, rebels and refugees said, in a remote region far from the view of international media.
Italy said its warplanes would join the British and French bombing of Libyan targets for the first time and NATO flattened a building inside Gaddafi's Tripoli compound, in what his officials said was a failed attempt on the Libyan leader's life.
Late on Monday, the "crusader aggressors" bombed civilian and military sites in Bir al Ghanam, 100 km (60 miles) south of Tripoli, and the Ayn Zara area of the capital, causing casualties, Libyan television said, without giving details. A Reuters correspondent heard explosions in Tripoli.
The report said foreign ships had also attacked and severed the al-Alyaf cable off Libya's coast, cutting communications to the towns of Sirte, Ras Lanuf and Brega.
But more than a month of air strikes did not appear to be tipping the balance decisively in a conflict increasingly described as a stalemate.
People in Misrata emerged from homes after daybreak on Monday to scenes of devastation after Gaddafi's forces pulled back from the city under cover of blistering rocket and tank fire, said witnesses contacted by phone.
Nearly 60 people had been killed in clashes in the city in the last three days, residents told Reuters by phone.
Although rebels' celebrations of "victory" on Saturday turned out to be very premature, it was clear they had inflicted significant losses on government forces in Misrata.
"Bodies of Gaddafi's troops are everywhere in the streets and in the buildings. We can't tell how many. Some have been there for days," said rebel Ibrahim.
Rebel spokesman Abdelsalam, speaking late on Monday, said Gaddafi's forces were trying to re-enter the Nakl Thaqeel Road, which leads to Misrata's port, its lifeline to the outside.
"Battles continue there. We can hear explosions," he said by phone. He said Gaddafi's forces positioned on the western outskirts of the city had also shelled the road from there.
Another rebel spokesman, Sami, said the humanitarian situation was worsening rapidly.
"It is indescribable. The hospital is very small. It is full of wounded people, most of them are in critical condition," he told Reuters by phone.
U.S. officials said relief groups were rotating doctors into Misrata and evacuating migrant workers.
Mark Bartolini, director of foreign disaster assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development, said aid organizations were aiming to create stocks of food in the region in case Libyan supply chains began breaking down.
Among the places in particular need of food aid were isolated towns in the Western Mountains, from where tens of thousands of people have fled to Tunisia from the fighting.
REFUGEES FLEE MOUNTAINS
"Our town is under constant bombardment by Gaddafi's troops. They are using all means. Everyone is fleeing," said one refugee, Imad, bringing his family out of the mountains.
NATO said its attack on the building in the Gaddafi compound was on a communications headquarters used to coordinate attacks on civilians. A Libyan spokesman said Gaddafi was unharmed and state television showed pictures of him meeting people in a tent, which it said had been taken on Monday.
Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam said the Libyan government would not be cowed.
"The bombing which targeted Muammar Gaddafi's office today ... will only scare children. It's impossible that it will make us afraid or give up or raise the white flag," he was quoted as saying by the state news agency, Jana.
Italy said its warplanes would join British and French aircraft in carrying out bombing of Libya. Geographically the closest major NATO member state to Libya, Italy had until Monday provided bases and reconnaissance and monitoring aircraft only.
The surprise decision immediately opened a fissure in Italy's coalition government.
The African Union held separate talks on Monday with Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi and rebel representatives in Addis Ababa to discuss a ceasefire plan.
The rebels had earlier rebuffed an AU plan because it did not entail Gaddafi's departure, while the United States, Britain and France say there can be no political solution until the Libyan leader leaves power.
(Additional reporting by Guy Desmond and Maher Nazeh in Tripoli, Alexander Dziadosz in Benghazi and Sami Aboudi in Cairo; writing by Andrew Roche; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
3:23pm EDT No invitation for Libya to Britain's royal wedding 9:55am EDT
Credit: Reuters/Louafi Larbi
Qaddafi Compound Hit in Fresh NATO Air StrikesBy Louise Hannah (video)
News Wires (text)
NATO forces flattened a building inside Muammar Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziyah compound early on Monday, in what his officials said was a failed attempt on the Libyan leader’s life.
NATO said the attack was on a communications headquarters used to coordinate attacks on civilians. A Libyan spokesman said Gaddafi was unharmed and state television showed pictures of him meeting people in a tent, which it said were taken on Monday.
A press official, who asked not to be identified, said 45 people were hurt in the strike, 15 of them seriously, and some were still missing. That could not be independently confirmed.
Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam said the Libyan government would not be cowed by such attacks.
“The bombing which targeted Muammar Gaddafi’s office today ... will only scare children. It’s impossible that it will make us afraid or give up or raise the white flag,” he was quoted as saying by the Jana state news agency.
“You, NATO, are waging a losing battle because you are backed by traitors and spies. History has proved that no state can rely on them to win.”
Libyan authorities have contacted Russia, China, Italy, Turkey and other countries to complain about the strike on Gaddafi’s compound, a government statement said. The compound has been hit before, but NATO forces appear to have stepped up the pace of strikes in Tripoli in recent days. A target nearby, which the government called a car park but which appeared to cover a bunker, was hit two days ago.
NATO said it was maintaining a “high operational tempo”.
AU diplomacy; Misrata bombarded
The attack on the compound coincided with a fresh flurry of diplomacy by countries seeking a way out of the Libyan conflict.
The African Union was holding separate talks on Monday with Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi and rebel representatives in Addis Ababa to discuss a peace plan.
“This will be the first time that they (rebels) are attending a meeting here. We will meet both sides one after the other,” Ramtane Lamamra, AU commissioner for peace and security, told Reuters.
The rebels rebuffed an earlier AU peace plan because it did not entail Gaddafi’s departure, while the United States, Britain and France say there can be no political solution until the Libyan leader leaves power.
The African Union does not have a good track record in brokering peace deals, having failed recently to end conflicts or disputes in Somalia, Madagascar and Ivory Coast.
The talks brought no relief for people in the besieged western city of Misrata, where residents reported intense bombardment in the early hours of Monday which tailed off when NATO planes flew over.
The weekend saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the two-month siege in Misrata despite an announcement by Gaddafi’s forces on Friday that they were pulling back.
Medics said more than 20 people were killed on Sunday and 28 on Saturday. A rebel spokesman put the death toll even higher. Three corpses were charred beyond recognition and one child was killed, but many of the shells fell on waste ground.
Residents said Gaddafi’s forces had been pushed away from Tripoli Street, centre of the recent battles, to the outskirts of the city, from where they were shelling occasionally when NATO planes were not around.
“Bodies of Gaddafi’s troops are everywhere in the streets and in the buildings. We can’t tell how many. Some have been there for days,” said Mohammed Ibrahim, a resident whose cousin was killed at the weekend. He was speaking by phone.
A rebel spokesman, Sami, said the humanitarian situation was worsening rapidly.
“It is indescribable. The hospital is very small. It is full of wounded people, most of them are in critical condition,” he said by phone. “The quantity of food available in the city is also decreasing. The state of the city is deteriorating because it has been under siege for about two months.”
A government spokesman in Tripoli said the army was still carrying out its plan to withdraw from the city, but had fired back when retreating troops were attacked.
“As our army was withdrawing from Misrata it came under attack by the rebels. The army fought back but continued its withdrawal from the city,” Mussa Ibrahim told reporters.
The government says it will leave it to local tribes to resolve the situation in Misrata. Rebels say the announcement may be part of a ruse to mask troop movements or stir violence between rebels and locals in nearby towns.
Out of view of international media, Gaddafi’s forces have been pounding rebel Berber towns in Libya’s remote Western Mountains with artillery.
The capture of a crossing on the Tunisian border by rebels has let refugees flee in cars or on foot along rocky paths, swelling refugee numbers in southern Tunisia to 30,000.
“Our town is under constant bombardment by Gaddafi’s troops. They are using all means. Everyone is fleeing,” said one refugee, Imad, bringing his family out of the mountains.
Rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil told a news conference in Kuwait the Gulf state had agreed to give 50 million Kuwaiti dinars ($177 million) to his rebel council to help pay workers in the eastern part of the country under its control.
The rebels have been seeking international recognition as well as material support from the west and the Arab world.
Hampered by their lack of firepower, equipment and training, they have been unable to advance from eastern Libya. Fighting with Gaddafi’s troops has swung back and forth along the coast road between the towns of Ajdabiyah and Brega.
Abdel Jalil also said the rebels had received weapons from “friends and allies”, but did not name them.
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