TRIPOLI, Libya — Residents of the rebel-held city closest to Libya's capital passed out sweets and cold drinks to fighters Tuesday and celebrated with a victory march after they managed to repel an overnight attack by forces loyal to longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi.
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Pro-Gadhafi forces also were repelled as they tried to retake two other opposition-held cities: Misrata, Libya's third-largest city 125 miles (200 kilometers) east of Tripoli, and Zintan, 75 miles (120 kilometers) south of the Libyan capital.
The rebels have been fighting to consolidate their gains as the international community weighs new moves to isolate the longtime Libyan leader, including the possibility of creating a no-fly zone over Libya.
Witnesses in Zawiya said pro-Gadhafi forces battled rebels for six hours overnight but could not retake control of the city 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Tripoli. They said the last of several assaults by the Gadhafi loyalists came at around 3 a.m. local time.
"Allahu Akbar (God is Great) for our victory," residents of Zawiya chanted as they paraded through the city's main square. Some carried on their shoulders an air force colonel they said had just defected to the rebels' side.
"We were worried about air raids but that did not happen," said one resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
The Zawiya rebels, who include mutinous army forces, are armed with tanks, machine guns and anti-aircraft guns. They fought back pro-Gadhafi troops, armed with the same weapons, who attacked from six directions. There was no word on casualties.
"We will not give up Zawiya at any price," said one witness. "We know it is significant strategically. They will fight to get it, but we will not give up. We managed to defeat them because our spirits are high and their spirits are zero."
The witnesses in Zawiya said youths from the city were stationed on the rooftops of high-rise buildings in the city to monitor the movements of the pro-Gadhafi forces and sound the warning if they thought an attack was imminent. They also spoke about generous offers of cash by the regime for the rebels to hand control of the city back to authorities.
Since the revolt against Gadhafi's 41-year-old rule began two weeks ago, his regime has launched the harshest crackdown in the Arab world where authoritarian rulers are facing an unprecedented wave of uprisings. Gadhafi has already lost control of the eastern half of the country and at least two cities close to the capital – Zawiya and Misrata. He still holds the capital Tripoli and other nearby cities.
More than 140,000 people have fled Libya to Egypt and Tunisia in a growing exodus from the chaos engulfing the country, refugee officials said.
U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said Tuesday "the situation is reaching crisis point" at the Libya-Tunisia border where authorities say up to 75,000 people have fled Libya since Feb. 20. Egyptian authorities say 69,000 people have crossed over from Libya since Feb. 19.
International pressure to end the crackdown has escalated dramatically in the past few days.
The U.S. moved naval and air forces closer to Libya on Monday and said all options were open, including patrols of the North African nation's skies to protect its citizens from their ruler. The Obama administration is demanding that Gadhafi relinquish power immediately.
France said it would fly aid to the opposition-controlled eastern half of the country. The European Union imposed an arms embargo and other sanctions, following the lead of the U.S. and the U.N. The EU and the U.S. have also talked about the possibility of creating a no-fly zone over Libya.
However, Russia's top diplomat ruled out the idea as "superfluous" and said world powers must instead focus on fully using the sanctions the U.N. Security Council approved over the weekend. Others suggested the tactic – used successfully in northern Iraq and Bosnia – to prevent Gadhafi from bombing his own people. But Russia's consent is required as a veto-wielding member of the Security Council.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, on Tuesday urged Gadhafi to consider exile, saying she's worried the African nation could plummet into a "humanitarian disaster."
"It's important that he get off the stage," Rice said told CBS on "The Early Show."
She said that exile "may be an option that he looks at." But the ambassador added that not even that scenario would inoculate Gadhafi from possible prosecution "for the crimes that he and those closest to him have committed."
In Misrata, pro-Gadhafi troops who control part of an air base on the city's outskirts tried to advance Monday. But they were repulsed by opposition forces, who included residents with automatic weapons and defected army units allied with them, one of the opposition fighters said.
No casualties were reported and the fighter claimed that his side had captured eight soldiers, including a senior officer.
The opposition controls most of the air base, and the fighter said dozens of anti-Gadhafi gunmen have arrived from farther east in recent days as reinforcements.
In Zintan, residents said an attack by pro-Gadhafi forces Monday night was the second since the city fell in rebel hands late last month. But, they added, Gadhafi's loyalists were bringing in reinforcements, possibly to stage a much bigger attack on the city.
They said rebel forces also were in control of a nearby area known as the Arab Mountain Line that includes several towns that includes the small towns of Lanut, Kikla and Kabo.
In Zawiya, an Associated Press reporter saw a large, pro-Gadhafi force massed on the western edge of the city Monday night, with about a dozen armored vehicles along with tanks and jeeps mounted with anti-aircraft guns.
An officer said they were from the elite Khamis Brigade, named after one of Gadhafi's sons who commands it. U.S. diplomats have said the brigade is the best-equipped force in Libya.
"We were able to repulse the attack. We damaged a tank with an RPG. The mercenaries fled after that," said a resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals.
He said Gadhafi called Zawiya's influential tribal leader Mohammed al-Maktouf and had warned him that if the rebels don't leave the city's main square by early Tuesday, they will be hit by warplanes.
Residents of Tripoli said the city was calm Tuesday but that some residents were anxious over what is seen there as a growing chance of foreign intervention.
"People are worried about foreign intervention," said one resident who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals. "Many Libyans see this as a conspiracy that will lead into dividing Libya to an eastern and western sectors. There will be massacres."
On Tuesday, Gadhafi's regime sought to show that it was the country's only legitimate authority and that it continued to feel compassion for areas in the east that fell under the control of its opponents.
A total of 18 trucks loaded with rice, wheat-flour, sugar and eggs left Tripoli for Benghazi, the country's second largest city 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) east of the capital. Also in the convoy were two refrigerated cars carrying medical supplies.
The convoy was met with a small pro-Gadhafi demonstration as it made its way out of Tripoli. "God, Gadhafi, Libya and that's it," chanted the demonstrators.
"The state is very generous with the people," said 22-year-old Ahmed Mahmoud as he watched the convoy.
In Benghazi, the epicenter of the opposition-controlled east, activists said they had no objection to the imposition of a no-fly zone over eastern Libya, but were divided whether to accept relief from the Gadhafi regime.
"Gadhafi's air force is a serious threat to us," said lawyer Nasser Bin Nour. "We will welcome a no-fly zone on Gadhafi's warplanes over the whole of Libya. The only thing we object to is foreign troops on Libyan soil." said Bin Nour, who said many in the city would not oppose shelling the positions of pro-Gadhafi forces by foreign warships or planes.
Another Benghazi activist, Najlaa al-Manqoush, echoed Bin Nour's comments on foreign aid, but pointed out that to accept the relief supplies sent Tuesday by the regime would help Gadhafi's propaganda machine.
"We reject any attempt by the regime to beautify its image in the media," she said. "We are much smarter than that. We accept all the aid they send us from friendly nations, but not from Gadhafi."
Reports the AP:
The Obama administration extended its Libya sanctions to more Gadhafi family members and close advisers on Thursday, blacklisting business with the Libyan leader's wife, four of his children and his chief of military intelligence.
The Treasury Department froze the assets of nine Libyans in all as part of the strategy to peel off Moammar Gadhafi's closest advisers while punishing those who remain loyal to the regime even as it commits human rights violations.
The sanctions come on top of those previously announced by the administration, which accounted for billion in Libyan government assets blocked in the United States.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for airstrikes against Gaddafi forces if the leader attacks civilians. According to the Guardian:
Nicolas Sarkozy has called for targeted air strikes against Muammar Gaddafi's regime if his forces use chemical weapons or launch air strikes against civilians.
As the EU foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton, warned that a no-fly zone could risk civilian lives in Libya, the French president told an emergency EU summit in Brussels that air strikes may soon be justified.
"The strikes would be solely of a defensive nature if Mr Gaddafi makes use of chemical weapons or air strikes against non-violent protesters," Sarkozy said. The French president qualified his remarks by saying he had many reservations about military intervention in Libya "because Arab revolutions belong to Arabs".
A Dutch helicopter crew taken captive in Libya has been freed and sent to Greece. The BBC is reporting:
The two men and one woman arrived in Athens on a Greek military transport plane hours after a son of Muammar Gaddafi announced their release.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said Libya would hold on to the crew's Lynx helicopter.
The woman pilot, Yvonne Niersman, took part in a mission last year to free a German ship from Somali pirates.
Ms Niersman and her fellow crew members were captured in Libya after flying in from the Dutch warship Tromp, anchored off the coast.
Read the entire report here.
Senator John McCain praised Morocco's King Mohammed VI for his pledge to introduce democratic reforms. According to the AFP:
"This new reform agenda builds on the king's long-standing commitment to lead Morocco to a future of reform and modernization, and it could ensure that the Kingdom of Morocco will continue to stand as a positive example to governments across the Middle East and North Africa," said McCain.
Reuters is reporting that Gaddafi is now offering to offer amnesty to those rebels who lay own arms.
The AP reports:
Tunisia's Interior Ministry says a new eruption of violence between police and protesters has killed two people and injured 20.
The ministry says on its Facebook page that police fired tear gas and demonstrators threw stones and gasoline bombs.
The statement says two protesters were killed in the incident in Metlaoui, a mining town in the center of the Mediterranean country.
The violence comes as Tunisia's interim government is trying to restore stability after deadly protests that drove out longtime leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January. That prompted uprisings around the Arab world.
Berlusconi is saying that the West may have made a mistake by taking a hardline against Gaddafi, which may have backed the Libyan leader into a corner. Reports Reuters:
The hardline stance taken by major powers against Muammar Gaddafi may have backed the Libyan leader into a corner and prevented a quiet exit, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Friday. Speaking after a special meeting of EU leaders, Berlusconi, one of Gaddafi's closest friends in Europe until the current upheaval, said the chances of persuading him to give up power voluntarily now appeared to have disappeared.
"Once someone put forward the idea of bringing Gaddafi before the International Criminal Court, I think the idea of staying in power became entrenched with him and I don't think anyone can make him change his mind," he told reporters.
Read the entire report here.
The AP is reporting that the rebels fighting Gaddafi forces are amateurs, but deeply committed to the cause:
Moammar Gadhafi has ruled Libya since long before the 25-year-old was born, and he hates the dictator enough to risk his life by fighting for the ragtag rebel force battling government troops along a desolate highway on the North African country's Mediterranean coast.
"I will fight forever. I will die or win, like Omar Mukhtar," said Salem, invoking the legendary Libyan hero who fought Italian occupiers in the 1930s, was ultimately executed, and has become a symbol for the new revolutionaries.
The front-line force trying to advance toward Gadhafi's stronghold in the capital Tripoli is surprisingly small. Not counting supporters who bolster them in the towns along their path, it is estimated at 1,500 at most — Libyans from all walks of life, from students and coffeeshop owners to businessmen who picked up whatever weapons they could and joined the fight. No one seems to know their full size, and they could be picking up new members all the time.
Its ramshackle nature explains the dramatic lurches the fighting has taken. Last week, they took control over a stretch of Mediterranean coastal land that included major oil installations in the ports of Brega and Ras Lanouf. They charged enthusiastically further west, reaching within a few dozen miles of Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, a bastion of support for the leader of 41 years.
Reports the AP:
Moammar Gadhafi's regime has gained momentum with the capture of a key city near Tripoli after days of fierce fighting with rebels.
The battle for Zawiya has emerged as a key test in the government's ability to maintain its hold on the Libyan capital and surrounding areas.
The government had claimed victory on Wednesday, but the rebels who are seeking to oust Gadhafi said fighting was ongoing.
An Associated Press reporter, who was escorted with other journalists into the city on Friday, says the main square that had been the center of resistance is clearly in government control.
Obama noted all of the sanctions and property seizures that have already been implemented against Gaddafi, saying, "Across the board, we are tightening the noose on Gaddafi." He says that NATO is discussing potential military actions in Libya, including a no-fly zone, and will meet on Tuesday. He said that a position will be created for a liaison to speak with Libyan opposition groups. He said that the international community had moved quickly to isolate Gaddafi.
Obama said that no options have been taken off the table so far. In response to a question about whether it would ever be acceptable to the U.S. for Gaddafi to stay in power, Obama stated that "it is in the U.S.' interest and the interest of the Libyan people for Gaddafi to leave." He added, however, that when making a decision to engage militarily, he would weigh the "costs and benefits."
President Obama will speak today on the unrest in the Middle East and North Africa. You can watch live above.
The AP is reporting that a quarter of a million people have left Libya:
A quarter million people have fled Libya since the uprising against Moammar Gadhafi's regime began last month, officials said Friday, as they warned they are having trouble getting foreign workers home.
About 6,000 people a day are still crossing into Tunisia and Egypt, many of them Bangladeshi workers who need longer flights, said Mohammed Abdiker, the International Organization for Migration's operation director.
"If the majority continue to be Bangladeshis needing long haul charter flights to get home, the cost to repatriate them will far exceed our current resources," he said.
Reports the AP:
Eyewitnesses say Yemeni security forces opened fire on demonstrators taking part in protests throughout Yemen in what appears to be the biggest turnout in a month of unrest to demand regime change.
In the southern port city of Aden, the witnesses say security forces shot at demonstrators trying rip down photographs of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Six protesters were wounded, one seriously, said one medic.
Read the entire report here.
Bill Clinton has voiced his support for a no-fly zone, a policy that has not yet been adopted by the Obama administration. According to Bloomberg:
The U.S. should support a no-fly zone over Libya to help underequipped insurgents fighting to topple well-armed and well-paid troops loyal to dictator Muammar Qaddafi, former U.S. president Bill Clinton said.
“They are not asking for ground troops, they don’t want us to get in the fight,” Clinton said of the insurgents at a conference in New York yesterday on the status of women. “Nobody wants to see an arms race in Libya, but it’s not a fair fight.”
Clinton said he was “sympathetic” to the Obama administration’s desire not to enforce a no-fly zone alone. Clinton noted that similar efforts had worked in the past, both in Bosnia and Iraq during his own presidency.
You can read the entire report here.
|@ Reuters : FLASH: Libyan rebel sources tell Reuters Gaddafi forces have withdrawn from central residential area of Ras Lanuf|
Al Jazeera reports:
And the diplomatic games continue. British prime minister David Cameron and French president Nicolas Sarkozy write to EU president Herman Van Rompuy, stating their commitment to "the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of Libya". Parts of it do seem to be a statement of intent toward further politcal - and military - action.
We welcome the formation of an Interim Transitional National Council based in Benghazi and we are engaging with the Council and its members to develop a cooperative dialogue ...
We support continued planning to be ready to provide support for all possible contingencies as the situation evolves on the basis of demonstrable need, a clear legal basis and firm regional support. This could include a no-fly zone or other options against air attacks, working with Allies and partners, especially those in the region. We are working together on elements of an appropriate UN Security Council resolution.
|@ bencnn : Anti-Qaddafi forces advising civilians leave the Al-Brega area concerned government forces will continue eastward advance. #Libya|
Further to our last update, the UK's Spectator magazine has echoed concerns that Col Gaddafi may be on the path to victory in Libya. The magazine warns:
If Gaddafi does emerge from this conflict victorious, then he will surely exact the most terrible vengeance on those parts of the country and those tribes that have risen up against him.
U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said on Thursday that the better-equipped forces of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi will over the long term prevail.
Clapper is facing calls for his resignation as a result of his remarks. Fox reports:
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called for Clapper to resign or be fired as Director of National Intelligence, citing his comments before the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning, on which Graham sits.
Graham told Cameron that he lacks confidence in Clapper's understanding of his job, that President Obama should "repudiate" Clapper's remarks, and that this is the third time Clapper has faltered in this way.
"Three strikes and you're out," Graham said.
It's become unclear who's controlling the Libyan Embassy in Washington, D.C.: the ambassador, who defected from Gaddafi, or his second in command, who appears not have changed his allegiance. Foreign Policy reports:
The Libyan embassy office, which is guarded by uniformed secret service guards and armed private security, shows no indications that there has been any change in Libya whatsoever. A large picture of Qaddafi hangs on the wall in between the green regime flag and the flag of the United States. A stack of copies of Qaddafi's manifesto, known as The Green Book, sits on the table. Embassy officers file in and out, as if going about their regular business.
Eventually, an embassy staffer came past. Gracious but uncomfortable, she said that Fatih was out of the office for a few days on "personal business." Asked who was in charge of the embassy, Aujali or Fatih, she responded, "It's very confusing, even to us."
Read more here.
The AP has this report on today's intense fighting. The rebels they spoke with said that they needed support from the international community, but so far have received "only promises."
The AP is reporting that a witness said that Saudi forces opened fire on protesters:
Saudi police have opened fire at a rally in the kingdom's east in an apparent escalation of efforts to stop planned protests.
Government officials have warned they will take strong action if activists take to the streets after increasing calls for large protests around the oil-rich kingdom to press for democratic reforms.
A witness in the eastern city of Qatif says gunfire and stun grenades were fired at several hundred protesters marching in the city streets Thursday. The witness, speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared government reprisal, said police in the area opened fire. The witness saw at least one protester injured.
Clinton will meet with Libyan rebel leaders. Al Jazeera English reports:
Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, is to meet with leaders of Libya's opposition council during a trip to the Middle East next week, she has told US lawmakers.
Clinton's statement of intent comes as France on Thursday became the first major European country to recognise Libya's opposition National Council based in Benghazi as the country's legitimate representative.
"We are reaching out to the opposition inside and outside of Libya," Clinton said while announcing her trip to Tunisia and Egypt.
"I will be meeting with some of those figures, both in the United States and when I travel next week, to discuss what more the United States and others can do," she said.
Read more here.
BBC News reports:
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi confirms they have freed three Dutch soldiers seized last month during a failed attempt to evacuate two civilians by navy helicopter. "We tell them don't come back again without our permission," Col Gaddafi's son tells Reuters. "This is Libya, not Netherlands. So we release them but we're still keeping the army helicopter."
Al Jazeera reports:
It seems that the various homes of the Gaddafi family around the world are becoming the focus of renewed solidarity protests. Danish police have moved to block plans for a giant party at Gaddafi's US.6million villa near Copenhagen.
The Facebook page set up as an open invitation to the March 25 bash had received 3,700 "confirmed attendees" within days. But police in the upmarket Gentofte suburb said they would also turn up. Danish police told the AFP news agency:
"They do not have the authorisation, so they might as well stop planning it, because there won't be a party. If they try, we'll be there."
This follows news that an activist group in England calling themselves 'Topple The Tyrants' is squatting in Saif Gaddafi's luxury mansion there.
BBC News reports
At a meeting in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh, six Gulf Arab states from the Gulf Co-operation Council vow in a statement to deal "decisively and immediately, without hesitation" against any threat to the security of any of the oil-rich monarchies, where calls for democratic reform have been mounting.
This comes the day after Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said that the ruling family will "cut off any finger" that is raised against it.
The AP reports that the wave of uprisings in the Arab world has inspired activists from Saudi Arabia's Shiite Muslim minority, who have called for a "Day of Rage" on Friday to demand the regime's ouster. The government accuses Shiites from outside the country of spurring the protests.
|@ ShababLibya : The students have now taken the green flag down and put up the independence flag at the Libyan embassy in London #Libya #Feb17|
This extended report from Al Jazeera, gives an excellent overview of the current international attitude towards establishing a no-fly zone over Libya, and then features a panel discussion with diplomatic experts.
|@ haynesdeborah : Rebels no where to be seen in centre of Zawiyah. Major clean up operation going on. Green flags everywhere|
The AP reports that Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton is to visit the Middle East next week, traveling to Egypt and Tunisia and meeting with Libyan opposition members.