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Libya Rebels: Misrata Is Ours

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LIBYA REBELS MISRATA

TRIPOLI, Libya — NATO aircraft blasted an oil terminal in a key eastern city at nightfall Sunday, Libyan TV reported, after Britain urged the alliance to widen its assault on areas controlled by ruler Moammar Gadhafi.

Libya's deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim sharply condemned that call, describing it as a "provocation."

The Libya TV report said the bombs hit methanol tanks at the oil port of Ras Lanouf, causing leaks. NATO officials had no immediate comment.

The reported attack came as the Libyan conflict appeared largely stalemated, with each side claiming gains one day, only to be turned back the next.

Libyan rebels said Sunday they have taken full control of the western port city of Misrata, 125 miles (200 kilometers) from Tripoli, the only major city in western Libya with a significant rebel toehold. The rebel claim could not be confirmed.

In Misrata, rebel fighter Abdel-Salam described the situation in Misrata as static.

"The situation is almost frozen, as the rebels are in full control over Misrata," he said. "The rebels are not engaged in any major fighting fronts with Gadhafi forces."

The two sides have been battling intensely over Misrata, symbolic because of its location near Gadhafi's capital. His forces shelled the city heavily and at some points took up positions inside Misrata neighborhoods to fire at civilians and fighters, while avoiding NATO airstrikes. Rebels and residents say Gadhafi forces remain at the edges of the town.

More than 1,000 people have died in Misrata in the fighting and shelling.

The rebel fighter denied earlier reports suggesting that rebels were advancing toward the western city of Zlitan, which would be the next step on the road to Tripoli.

"The rebels agreed that it is better not to move forward or open new fronts," he said.

He added, "It will be a big risk to advance. Anything could happen and cost us heavy causalities. This is not the right decision to take right now."

The head of Britain's armed forces, Gen. David Richards, appeared to relate to the stalemate and frustration in the West over the slow pace of warfare in Libya, with Gadhafi still in power, able to taunt NATO for failing to unseat him.

In remarks published in The Sunday Telegraph in London, Richards urged NATO to widen the range of targets the alliance's planes are allowed to hit in the effort to stymie the Gadhafi's regime's attacks on protesters. Richards declared that "more intense military action" was needed or the conflict could end in stalemate.

Kaim, the deputy foreign minister, said Richards' call was emblematic of the international alliance's attacks, which he said have gone beyond the UN mandate that initially authorized them.

"This threat is aimed at terrorizing civilians," he said early Monday in a late-night discussion with reporters in the Libyan capital.

Kaim also said the NATO strikes were aimed at killing Gadhafi. However, "those attempts to kill the leader are a complete waste of time," he said.

Gadhafi has rarely been seen or heard since a strike killed his son on April 30. He briefly showed up on state-run television and on another day he issued a minute-long voice message.

Kaim said Gadhafi was "still the leader of the country – but not in charge of day-to-day business."

The call to widen the NATO strikes on Libya came as International Criminal Court prosecutors put the final touches on their case against three Libyan leaders on charges of murder and persecution in the brutal crackdown on anti-government rebels.

Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo will file a 74-page document with nine annexes outlining the allegations and seeking arrest warrants for the three Libyan leaders considered most responsible for the atrocities.

Moreno-Ocampo has not disclosed the names of the three, but Gadhafi is widely expected to be among them.

Kaim dismissed the expected arrest warrants, saying the government would "not show any attention to the decision." He said Libya did not recognize the jurisdiction of the international court, nor do most African countries.

Kaim cited the case of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who has been indicted for crimes including genocide in Darfur following a Security Council-mandated probe, and has traveled to friendly nations several times without arrest.

Also on Sunday, the U.N.'s special envoy for Libya, Abdel Elah Al-Khatib, made a one-day visit to Tripoli, Kaim and a UN statement said, partly to try to push for a cease-fire. Al-Khatib met with tribal leaders and senior government officials. Cease-fire efforts have been unsuccessful.

While refusing to comment on the reported attack on Ras Lanouf, which is about halfway between Tripoli and the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya, a NATO spokesman in Naples who declined to give his name said there was a NATO airstrike at about midday Sunday near Zawara, 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Tunisian border. He said it was a strike on a pro-Gadhafi military position where there was equipment being used to target civilians.

Tunisia's TAP news agency said that NATO planes bombed barracks and radar installations in the Libyan town of Boukamache, about 11 miles (17 kilometers) from the Tunisian border.

Libyans have been pouring from Boukamache across to Tunisia via the Ras Jdir border post, the report said.

Detonations could be heard from the Ras Jdir border post, where the Tunisian army has been in a state of alert since Saturday after a blackout on the Libyan side.

TAP also reported that Tunisian forces on Saturday thwarted a push by 200 Gadhafi forces aboard some 50 off-road vehicles into Tunisian territory.

Libyans have been trying to enter Tunisia in a bid to retake the strategic Dhehiba border crossing, controlled by Libyan rebels for the past few weeks. The Tunisian military sent tanks, armored vehicles and reinforcement troops to the area in response, TAP reported.

An activist in the far-western town of Zintan said pro-Gadhafi forces shelled the area late Saturday.

In another move against Gadhafi, Arab League states meeting in Cairo asked the company operating the Arabsat satellite to stop transmitting the official Libyan TV channels. The Arab League owns the satellite. It was not clear when the decision would take effect.

___

Michael reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Bouazza ben Bouazza contributed to this story from Tunis.

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