The Guardian reports:
Muammar Gaddafi’s effort to defeat the rebels before international support can come seems to be paying off, with the uprising close to collapse as the US ended weeks of stalling to join Britain and France in supporting a United Nations resolution to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.
A vote is expected this week, but is likely to come too late to support the rebellion. Gaddafi’s troops, backed by air power, moved into the town of Ajdabiya, clearing the way to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, 90 miles away. Residents of the city were fleeing towards the border with Egypt.
Washington is facing accusations, particularly from the rebels, that delay had given the Libyan leader the space he needed. “They have betrayed us,” Ahmed Malen, one of the revolutionary volunteers pasting anti-Gaddafi posters on walls in Benghazi. “If they kill us all, the west will have blood on its hands. They do not believe in freedom. They are cowards.”
President Barack Obama will face criticism from Democrats as well as Republicans if the rebellion collapses.
France’s foreign minister, Alain Juppé, admitted that a no-fly zone might now be too late. “If we had used military force last week to neutralise some airstrips and the several dozen planes that they have, perhaps the reversal taking place to the detriment of the opposition wouldn’t have happened,” Juppé told Europe-1 radio.
The Obama administration, already fighting two wars, was reluctant to join a third and challenged the value of a no-fly zone. But, after the Arab League countries met and agreed a request on Saturday for a no-fly zone, the US along with Britain, France and Lebanon supported a draft UN resolution to be presented to the UN security council.
Although victory by Gaddafi would make a no-fly zone redundant, the draft resolution also includes measures that would remain in some degree relevant, mainly expanding sanctions, such as stricter enforcement of the arms embargo, freezing the assets of more members of the Gaddafi regime and extending a travel ban, and ordering countries to stop mercenaries flying from their airports to Libya.
A security council source, noting Gaddafi’s advances, said: “Time is of the essence.” But he acknowledged that the security council was slow moving and that while a vote could be held this week, it could spill over into next week. “The negotiations will be tough,” he added.
France’s UN ambassador, Gerard Araud, told reporters: “We are deeply distressed by the fact that things are worsening on the ground, that the Gaddafi forces are moving forward and the council has not yet reacted.”
The US shift comes after securing a promise that Arab countries would contribute forces to policing the no-fly zone. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan would be asked to provide planes. Washington is worried that a purely western force would be counter-productive, alienating Arab opinion and damaging the changes elsewhere in the Arab world.
But the rate of advance by Gaddafi may make a no-fly zone academic. The street-by-street fighting promised by rebel’s military leader, Abdel Fattah Younis, failed to materialise. Younis was Gaddafi’s interior minister until recently and now has a $4m (£2.48m) bounty on his head.
In an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Giornale, he derided international discussionof a no-fly zone. The Libyan leader told the rebels: “There are only two possibilities: surrender or run away.”
Gaddafi’s seizure of the coastal road at Ajdabiya opens the way not only to Benghazi but to Tobruk and control of Libya’s border with Egypt. The coastal road divides at Ajdabiya, offering Gaddafi’s forces the opportunity to bypass Benghazi to seize towns to the east and then besiege the rebels’ de facto capital from both sides.
Akram Ramadan, a British-born Libyan broadcaster who returned to the UK from Bengazhi this week, said: “Everything is already too late. Whatever they decide, it is a month too late. Libyans are disappointed with the response of the west.”