Rebels and NATO strikes repel assault on Ajdabiya
Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s military forces appeared to falter on Sunday in a second day of assault against the rebel city of Ajdabiya, as opposition fighters aided by heavy NATO airstrikes retook positions through much of the city.
Occasional skirmishes between small units within the city on Sunday morning appeared to be dying out. And other than an apparent mortar attack against a rebel checkpoint, the loyalists’ artillery and rocket batteries were mostly silent by the afternoon, when rebel fighters were able to roam many of Ajdabiya’s streets with confidence.
It was a sharp turnabout from the fighting on Saturday, when heavy artillery barrages sent rebel forces running several times through the day and caused heavy damage here. Loyalist forces were able to infiltrate the city, fighting gun battles in the city center against local rebels who had stayed to defend their homes. But by Sunday, that threat appeared to have passed.
“I think the Qaddafi forces go out of the city,” a doctor working at the city’s hospital said, in English.
By 4 p.m., a long rebel column of pickup trucks passed through the city’s main street, firing their weapons in the air in celebration.
The rebels’ gains were at least in part because of heavy NATO airstrikes throughout the morning and afternoon outside Ajdabiya, at a vital crossroads of highway networks in eastern Libya. NATO officials reported destroying several tanks on the western approaches to the city, and in the rebel holdout city of Misurata, over the past day.
“The situation in Ajdabiya, and Misurata in particular, is desperate for those Libyans who are being brutally shelled by the regime,” General Bouchard said.
While NATO’s operation is focused on destroying the heavy military equipment that poses the most threat to civilians, the statement said the airstrikes were also hitting ammunition bunkers and supply lines. “We are hitting the regime logistics facilities as well as their heavy weapons because we know Gaddafi is finding it hard to sustain his attacks on civilians”, General Bouchard said. (New York Times)
NATO warplanes destroy tanks, supply routes in Libya’s Ajdabiya, Misrata
NATO warplanes destroyed dozens of Libyan government tanks around the embattled cities of Ajdabiya and Misrata, as South African president Jacob Zuma arrived in the capital of Tripoli for cease-fire talks.
Airstrikes blew up 11 tanks belonging to forces loyal to Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi as they approached Ajdabiya today, and 14 more were hit earlier on the outskirts of Misrata. NATO strikes also left craters in the road used by Qaddafi to resupply troops shelling Ajdabiya, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said. (Bloomberg)
Libya rebels vent frustration on Nato and a silent leadership
Saturday – The chants of the demonstrators in Benghazi and among furious rebel fighters on Libya’s frontline reflected the sudden shift in mood.
“Where is Nato?” demanded the same people who only days earlier were waving French flags and shouting “Viva David Cameron”.
But behind the growing anger in revolutionary Libya over what is seen as a retreat by the west from air strikes against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces – a fury compounded by two botched Nato raids that killed rebel fighters – there was a second question: where are our leaders?
Nato’s failure to use its air power to reverse days of military setbacks for the rebels prompted a collapse in confidence in the west’s intentions among Gaddafi’s foes. Conspiracy theories flew. The west wants a divided Libya so it can control the oil, said some. Turkey, a Nato member, is vetoing air strikes because it supports Gaddafi, said others.
The concerns intensified on a day which saw Gaddafi’s forces advance further eastwards into oppositon territory than at any stage since international airstrikes began. Fierce fighting in Ajdabiya saw at least eight people killed and recapturing the city would give the Libyan military a staging ground to attack the rebels stronghold, Benghazi, about 100 miles further east.
Nato denied it was scaling back attacks and explained it faced new challenges in striking Gaddafi’s forces now that they have switched from relying on tanks and heavy armour in favour of smaller fighting units in pick-up trucks that are harder to hit. Not many in the liberated areas of Libya were interested. They were angry – and wanted their leaders to tell the west. But the revolution’s self-appointed chiefs in the interim national council were nowhere to be seen. (The Guardian)
NATO air strikes target Misurata
Libyan rebel forces have beaten off a new assault by government troops on the besieged western city of Misurata, but lost eight of their fighters in fierce street battles.
Mustafa Abdulrahman, a rebel spokesman, told Reuters by phone that Saturday’s fighting was centred on the Nakl al-Theqeel road to Misurata port.
He praised what he called a positive change from NATO, saying its aircraft carried out several air strikes on forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader. Rebels have complained for days that NATO is too slow and imprecise in responding to government attacks. (Al Jazeera)
Libyan refugees tell of region suffering in silence
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces are shelling homes, poisoning wells and threatening to rape women in a remote mountain region, out of sight of the outside world, said people who fled the area.
The violence in the Western Mountains region, a sparsely-populated area reached only by winding roads, has received little of the international attention given to attacks on cities on the coast such as Misrata and Ajdabiyah.
But residents who escaped the region in the past three days, loading suitcases and mattresses onto their cars and driving across the border into Tunisia, said they were subject to a campaign of terror.
They now want their story to be heard.
“The bombardment … is targeting homes, hospitals, schools,” said Mohamed Ouan, from the town of Kalaa, who arrived at Tunisia’s Dehiba border crossing with about 500 other Libyans from the Western Mountains.
“No one is interested in this region, which is suffering in silence,” he told Reuters late on Saturday.
Another man from the same town, Hedi Ben Ayed, said: “Just imagine, there is no life left there. Gaddafi’s forces used petrol to burn the drinking water wells so we would go thirsty … Believe me, his forces have even killed the sheep.”
“You shouldn’t ask questions about the number of dead,” he said. “The last victims were a whole family which was killed on Friday by indiscriminate bombardments.”
The Western Mountains region, which includes the towns of Nalout, Kalaa, Yafran and Zintan, is populated by Berbers, a group ethnically distinct from most Libyans and traditionally viewed with suspicion by Gaddafi.
Away from the wealth on Libya’s Mediterranean coast, they scratch out a living rearing goats and sheep on mountain scrubland. Until a generation ago, many lived in underground caves they had carved out of the rock.
When people in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi revolted against Gaddafi’s four-decade rule in February, residents in the Western Mountains region, southwest of Tripoli, joined in.
Videos posted on the Internet show crowds in Kalaa waving the green, black and red flag of the anti-Gaddafi rebels and chanting slogans in the Berber language.
Another video, from Nalout, showed people at a protest holding up a banner with the words: “The rebels of Nalout are supporting the Benghazi rebels.”
For weeks afterwards, forces loyal to Gaddafi, reeling from uprisings across the country, left the rebellion in the Western Mountains unchallenged. Now though, they are seeking to restore their control.
Libyan officials deny attacking civilians, and say they are waging a battle against armed criminal gangs and al Qaeda sympathisers who, they say, are trying to destroy the country.
FEAR OF RAPE
Aziza Belgasem, an 86-year-old woman, sits in a corner of the encampment at Dehiba where dozens of families parked their cars after arriving from Libya.
She wept as she said: “He has destroyed everything. Gaddafi is a catastrophe … We want to go back to our homes in peace.”
Her son, Mohammed Aissa, explained why his mother was distraught. She had to leave her daughters behind because they could not find fuel for their vehicles to escape.
Many said they fled after days living in fear of abuse — including rape — at the hands of Gaddafi’s forces.
“We are here because we were threatened with death, with kidnap, and with the rape of our sisters,” said Walid Salem, who is from Kalaa. “Gaddafi’s forces have promised to rape all the girls.”
“I slept for several nights in an underground cave out of fear, not of being killed but of being kidnapped.”
Said Amrawi said it was the threat of rape which made him flee his home in Nalout. “To be frank, there is no shelling in Nalout, but I am afraid that my wife and daughters will be raped,” he said.
“I wanted to bring them to a safe place … As for me, I want to go back to Nalout.”
One man, from the town of Yafran, appealed for foreign help. “We do not want direct NATO intervention but it is necessary, otherwise there will be no one left in Yafran,” he said.
Even in exile, the spirit of the rebellion in the Western Mountains lives on. A group of children played in the encampment, among them a 9-year-old boy.
Holding a plastic gun in his hands, he repeated the words: “I want to kill you, Gaddafi.” (Reuters)