Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

MIDDLE EAST MATTERS

Gaza conflict: Palestinians mark sombre Eid

Read more

WEB NEWS

Celebrities in the Israel-Gaza crossfire

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

Israeli strike takes out Gaza power station

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

French newspaper apologises for Sarkozy story

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

Last-ditch talks aim to avert Argentina default

Read more

DEBATE

Europe's Plan for Putin: Will Russian Leader Bend After New Sanctions? (part 2)

Read more

DEBATE

Europe's Plan for Putin: Will Russian Leader Bend After New Sanctions?

Read more

FOCUS

Pakistan's Ahmadis living in fear of extremist attacks

Read more

WEB NEWS

Web users show solidarity with Iraqi Christians

Read more

  • Deadly shelling strikes Gaza UN school

    Read more

  • Video: Coping with rocket attacks in Israel’s Sderot

    Read more

  • Rats on the rampage at Louvre museum gardens

    Read more

  • Scores trapped as landslide hits Indian village

    Read more

  • Dozens killed in stampede at Guinea rap concert

    Read more

  • US and EU slap Russia with fresh sanctions over Ukraine

    Read more

  • 'Compelling' signs Kosovo leaders trafficked organs, prosecutor says

    Read more

  • Europe launches last resupply ship to space station

    Read more

  • Graphic: Ebola spreads across West Africa

    Read more

  • Video: How tourism is helping Rwanda’s gorillas, ex-poachers

    Read more

  • Islamists seize key Benghazi army base as fire rages on

    Read more

  • In pictures: ن - a sign of support for Iraq’s persecuted Christians

    Read more

  • Calls mount to ban France’s ‘violent’ Jewish Defence League

    Read more

  • Venezuela: Hugo Chavez’s ‘little bird’ strikes again

    Read more

Africa

Libyan rebels oust Gaddafi forces from key towns

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-03-27

Anti-government rebels took control of the eastern Libyan town of Ajdabiyah on Saturday, marking their first strategic victory since the start of UN-backed air strikes. Later reports said that the town of Brega was also in rebel hands.

REUTERS - Libyan rebels backed by allied air strikes have recaptured the strategic town of Ajdabiyah, signalling that the tide may be turning against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in the east.

In the west, France said its warplanes destroyed five Libyan aircraft and two helicopters at an air base outside rebel-held Misrata on Saturday. Pro-Gaddafi forces had earlier pounded the city with tank, mortar and artillery fire that halted only as coalition aircraft appeared overhead, rebels said.

Battleground Libya

Western governments hope the raids, launched with the aim of protecting civilians, will also shift the balance of power in favour of the Arab world’s most violent popular revolt.

Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim told reporters in the capital Tripoli that Gaddafi was directing his forces but appeared to suggest the leader might be moving around the country so as to keep his whereabouts a mystery.

“He is leading the battle. He is leading the nation forward from anywhere in the country,” said Ibrahim.

“He has many offices, many places around Libya. I assure you he is leading the nation at this very moment and he is in continuous communication with everyone around the country.”

Asked if Gaddafi was constantly on the move, Ibrahim said:
“It’s a time of war. In a time of war you act differently.”

One resident in Misrata said 115 people had been killed in the city in a week and that snipers were still shooting people from rooftops.

In Ajdabiyah, rebel fighters danced on tanks, waved flags and fired in the air near buildings riddled with bullet holes. Half a dozen wrecked tanks lay near the eastern entrance to the town and the ground was strewn with empty shell casings. 

Factbox: Military operation in Libya as of March 26, 7:30pm

Countries participating: France, Britain, US, Canada, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Denmark and Qatar

Missions flown: 1,257

Missions flown by US: 787

Missions flown by other countries: 470

Air strikes: 540
 

Rebels said fighting had lasted through Friday night into Saturday. By the town’s western gate there were bodies of more than a dozen of Gaddafi’s fighters. An abandoned truckload of ammunition suggested his forces had beaten a hasty retreat.

“Thank you Britain, thank you France, thank you America,” said one rebel, praising the Western air strikes against Gaddafi’s forces.

Eastern gateway

Capturing Ajdabiyah, a gateway from western Libya to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and the oil town of Tobruk, was a big morale boost for the rebels a week after coalition air strikes began to enforce a U.N.-mandated no-fly zone.

In Misrata, the only big insurgent stronghold left in Libya’s west, cut off from the main rebel force to the east, shelling by Gaddafi’s forces fell silent on Saturday when Western coalition planes appeared in the sky, rebels said.

Libya’s third city is only about 200 km (120 miles) from the capital and Gaddafi can ill afford to leave it in the hands of anti-government protesters.

“He pulled his forces out of Ajdabiyah and Brega so that he puts all his weight in attacking Misrata and winning so he can control the whole west versus losing the whole east,” a rebel, called Saadoun, said by telephone.

The French armed forces said around 20 French aircraft supported by an AWACS surveillance plane struck targets during the day on Saturday, including five Galeb fighter jets and two MI-35 helicopters on the ground outside Misrata.

Rebels said they had seized control on Saturday of the oil port of Brega, 70 km (45 miles) west along the Mediterranean coast from Ajdabiyah. But there was no independent confirmation.

Brega, site of an oil export terminal and refinery, sprawls over a large area and overall control can be hard to determine.

“Brega is 100 percent in the hands of liberating forces,” said Shamsiddin Abdulmolah, a rebel spokesman in Benghazi.

Last week Libyan officials said nearly 100 civilians had been killed in the coalition strikes.

On Saturday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates dismissed the assertion, saying: “The truth of the matter is we have trouble coming up with proof of any civilian casualties that we have been responsible for.”

“We do have a lot of intelligence reporting about Gaddafi taking the bodies of the people he’s killed and putting them at the sites where we’ve attacked,” Gates told CBS News’ “Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer”.

U.S. President Barack Obama, criticised by U.S. politicians across the spectrum for failing to communicate the goals of the air campaign, told Americans that the military mission in Libya was clear, focused and limited.

He said it had already saved countless civilian lives.

Obama said Libya’s air defences had been disabled, Gaddafi’s forces were no longer advancing and, in places like Benghazi, his forces had been pushed back.

« So make no mistake, because we acted quickly, a humanitarian catastrophe has been avoided and the lives of countless civilians—innocent men, women and children—have been saved, » Obama said in a weekly radio address.

Obama, due to speak to Americans about Libya again on Monday evening, had also been faulted by fellow politicians for taking on another military mission in a Muslim country with the United States embroiled in the Iraq and Afghan wars.

NATO has agreed to take over that role in enforcing the no-fly zone and arms embargo against Libya, but final details have not yet been worked out for the military alliance to take over the air strikes on Gaddafi’s military and its equipment.

Libyan state television was broadcasting occasional, brief news reports of the air strikes. Mostly it showed footage—some of it grainy images years old—of cheering crowds waving green flags and carrying portraits of Gaddafi.

Date created : 2011-03-26

  • LIBYA

    Blasts rock military site in Tripoli

    Read more

  • SPECIAL REPORT

    Libyan rebels face pro-Gaddafi troops

    Read more

  • LIBYA

    NATO to enforce no-fly zone

    Read more

COMMENT(S)