NATO powers have rejected Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's offer to call a ceasefire and begin talks, warning that air strikes will go on as long as Libyan civilians are being threatened.
AP - NATO on Saturday brushed aside Moammar Gadhafi’s call for a truce and negotiations to end an international bombing campaign, and alliance warships cleared sea mines laid by his forces near the harbor of the only major city held by rebels in western Libya.
Three aid ships were prevented from docking at the port of Misrata during the sweep, temporarily cutting off the besieged city of 300,000 people from its only lifeline.
In a rambling pre-dawn speech, Gadhafi said “the door to peace is open.”
“You are the aggressors. We will negotiate with you. Come, France, Italy, U.K., America, come to negotiate with us. Why are you attacking us?” he asked.
He also railed against foreign intervention, saying Libyans have the right to choose their own political system, but not under the threat of NATO bombings.
In Brussels, a NATO official said the alliance needed “to see not words but actions,” and vowed the alliance would keep up the pressure until the U.N. Security Council mandate on Libya is fulfilled. NATO has promised to continue operations until all attacks and threats against civilians have ceased, all of Gadhafi’s forces have returned to bases and full humanitarian access is granted.
The NATO official, who spoke on condition of anonymity according to policy, noted that Gadhafi’s forces had shelled Misrata and tried to mine the city’s port just hours before his speech.
“The regime has announced cease-fires several times before and continued attacking cities and civilians,” the official said.
“All this has to stop, and it has to stop now,” the official said.
Rebel leaders have said they will only lay down their arms and begin talks after Gadhafi and his sons step aside. Gadhafi has repeatedly refused to resign. A rebel spokesman, Jalal al-Galal, called the cease-fire offer a publicity stunt.
“We don’t believe that there is a solution that includes him or any member of his family. So it is well past any discussions. The only solution is for him to depart,” he said.
In Images: Misrata refugees arrive in Benghazi
International aid agencies have stepped up efforts to evacuate civilians from the besieged city of Misrata to the rebel-held eastern city of Benghazi. Around 630 refugees arrived in Benghazi on Wednesday aboard a Red Cross-commissioned boat. ©FRANCE 24
International aid groups are now relying on Misrata's northern sea-face to ship in humanitarian aid and evacuate stranded civilians. ©FRANCE 24
As the Red Cross boat was leaving Misrata on Tuesday afternoon forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi hit the city's port with heavy shelling. ©FRANCE 24
"Rockets were landing right next to the ship and as the ship started to leave, I could hear boom, boom, boom,” said Wagji Zakijundi, an Egyptian schoolteacher in Misrata and now refugee in Benghazi. ©FRANCE 24
Javier Cepero, a spokesman for the International Committee for the Red Cross, confirmed that there had been shelling in and around the port. "I can't say if [the refugees] were specifically targeted," he added. ©FRANCE 24
More than half-a-million people, most of them third-country nationals, have fled Libya since the uprising began in February, according to USAID (US Agency for International Development) officials. ©FRANCE 24
International aid agencies have launched evacuation missions to help the foreign workers return home and ease the strain on neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia. ©FRANCE 24
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said Gadhafi needs to stop attacking his people before any political transition can be achieved. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini reaffirmed in a TV interview the need for NATO’s intervention because of the “horror” wrought by Gadhafi’s regime.
Italy will host a one-day summit Thursday on Libya, bringing together the main international players in the six-week NATO campaign, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
NATO has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in the past month as part of a U.N. mandate to protect Libyan civilians. The alliance has struck Gadhafi-linked military targets, but also his residential compound. Before dawn Saturday, warplanes hit beachfront government buildings in Tripoli.
Libyan officials alleged the strike was meant to kill Gadhafi as he spoke live on state TV, but the broadcast building was not damaged and Gadhafi spoke from an undisclosed location.
The strikes badly damaged a two-story building that Libyan officials said housed several welfare and human rights organizations. A school for children suffering from Down syndrome and the offices of parliamentary staff were also damaged, they said.
A security guard at the site said three people were hurt.
NATO did not say why it targeted the building. However, a TV transmission tower stood nearby, and a third strike gouged a crater just 50 meters (50 yards) from the TV building.
Foreign diplomats and local church leaders inspected the airstrike damage in a government-escorted tour.
“Bombing is not a solution,” said Bishop Giovanni Martinelli, the senior Catholic clergyman in Tripoli, adding that he was giving his personal view.
Much of the recent fighting has focused on western Libya, including Misrata and a border crossing into Tunisia.
Clashes continued around the edges of Misrata, with intense battles in the al-Gheran neighborhood southwest of the city center. The fighting killed at least 10 people, including two brothers aged 10 and 16, and wounded 17 others, according to officials at central Hikma hospital.
Five fighters, including a rebel commander, were killed in clashes with Gadhafi’s troops in the city’s east.
Fighter Mohammed Sebti said rebels were using heavy artillery they had captured and managed to hit a government vehicle. Gadhafi’s forces responded with truck-mounted rockets.
Human Rights Watch said two mines had been destroyed by NATO forces combing Misrata’s port while a third was being closely monitored. NATO did not give details.
On Friday, NATO intercepted boats laying anti-ship mines in the waters near Misrata. A NATO warship could be seen in the distance while a smaller boat circled the harbor’s entrance Saturday.
Rebel security officials said NATO ships had been searching since about 1 a.m., and one of the mines was destroyed nearly two miles from the port.
Hundreds of desperate migrants and residents waited for the port to reopen. “All the humanitarian missions are stopped now because they can not get any humanitarian aid inside,” said Fadl Moukadem of the international aid group Mercy Corps.
Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said he was unaware of mine-laying. But he said the government is trying to prevent weapons from reaching the rebels by sea and any aid shipments must be coordinated with the authorities and preferably should come overland.
Date created : 2011-04-30