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Africa

Gaddafi steps up assault on rebels

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-05-08

Rebels in Libya say that increasing outside pressure on the Gaddafi regime from Western alliance countries has resulted in intensified assaults on towns and cities by forces loyal to the regime as the Libyan leader becomes increasingly desperate.

AFP - Moamer Kadhafi's troops unleashed a salvo of Grad rockets on towns in Libya's western mountains, and destroyed key fuel supplies in a move that could aggravate a desperate humanitarian crisis.

At least nine rebels were killed and 50 others were wounded in fierce clashes in the northwestern town of Zintan as forces loyal to the Libyan strongman pressed the insurgents on several fronts Saturday.

The troops shelled fuel depots in Misrata, under siege from pro-Kadhafi forces for over two months, and dropped mines in its harbour using helicopters bearing the Red Cross and Red Crescent emblems, the rebels said as they braced for a fresh ground assault.

The attacks could trigger fuel shortages that would hamper access to electricity and travel.

And on Friday, helicopters disguised as Red Cross vehicles overflew Misrata on Friday, dropping anti-ship mines into the port, the only entry of humanitarian supplies to the city, according to a rebel leader.

"It seems that the more desperate Kadhafi gets, the more he unleashes his firepower on the people," said Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, vice-chairman of the opposition National Transitional Council.

Intensified shelling struck the besieged port city and western towns near the Tunisian border, according to Ghoga, while loyalist fighters attacked the southern oasis towns of Ojla and Jalo, which neighbour oil facilities.

He said the escalation of violence reflected a knee-jerk reaction to increased political and economic pressure after France, Britain, and Germany expelled Libyan diplomats and a trust fund was set up for rebels.

"Kadhafi's natural reaction is to wreak havoc on the population, on the civilians and the cities," he said.

NATO admitted its no-fly zone had been violated on Thursday when one of the ships involved in its operations spotted a number of helicopters flying over Misrata, which came under fire from rebel forces.

A spokeswoman at the ICRC's Geneva headquarters said they had received similar reports but could not confirm them, as the organisation currently has no team on the ground.

Complete details of the damage wreaked by continued shelling of the city have yet to emerge.

Amnesty International has said the siege of Misrata amounted to a possible war crime. Earlier this week, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said the Kadhafi regime was committing crimes against humanity.

Libya's deputy foreign minister, Khaled Kaim, is saying there will be no let-up in the government's attempts to block off the maritime lifeline to Misrata, which he said allows "ships to bring arms to the city and then to evacuate some criminals."

And Suleiman Fortiya, who represents rebels in Misrata, said they were bracing for a new ground assault on Libya's third city.

"I am sure there will be a lot of fighting on the ground in the future. That is what Misrata is worried about because he (Kadhafi) is doing a big preparation to march on Misrata," he said, adding troops were massing in Zliten, outside the city.

"This army will be coming from Zliten and most likely will come wearing civilian clothes."

In the western mountains towards the border with Tunisia, Kadhafi forces unleashed a salvo of Grad rockets on Zintan and Wazin, forcing an estimated 20,000 people to flee for shelter across the border, Ghoga said.

UN international staff leaves Tripoli

The U.N. said Sunday the 12 international members of its staff in Tripoli had left Libya because of unrest in the capital. The U.N.'s local staff will remain.

The towns were "heavily bombarded by Grad missiles," a rebel information officer told AFP adding that Kadhafi's troops were "firing randomly" and that overwhelmed rebels had pulled out of Wazin.

"The fighting was too heavy for them," he said.

Hundreds of regime troops backed by tanks had come to within 15 kilometres (nine miles) of Zintan's eastern edge in the morning before the insurgents drove them back twice as far to the Al-Aluwinia area.

It was there that the heaviest fighting took place throughout the day, as black smoke rose from the town virtually emptied of its population.

Kadhafi forces abandoned their vehicles as well as some prisoners.

But the toll was heavy for the insurgents.

Nine rebel bodies were seen by AFP in the Zintan hospital morgue, while a team of medics from Doctors Without Borders in the area reported that 50 were wounded, several of them in critical condition.

France 24's Cyril Vanier reports on NATO bombing of Gaddafi's Tripoli compound
The mountainous area of Zintan, southwest of Tripoli, was one of the first to rise up against Kadhafi's regime in March. Rebels last month captured a border post there.

The rebels said Italy has agreed to supply them with weapons "very soon" to fight Kadhafi's forces, although foreign ministry officials in Rome explained it was "self-defence material."

The Italian officials said these would not be assault weapons but declined to elaborate further.

Representatives of the international community have promised $250 million (175 million euros) in humanitarian aid to the rebels and said the Kadhafi regime's frozen overseas assets, estimated at $60 billion, would be used later to assist the Libyan opposition.

The immediate funds made available are far less than the $3 billion sought by the rebels, but their leader, Mahmud Jibril, described it as "a good start" that represents a six-month budget.

Ghoga once again appealed to the international community to arm the rebels "to enable them to defend themselves, their families and their cities."

"I think if we get the armaments we can make a difference in the ground," he added.

Date created : 2011-05-08

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