Gadafy forces in heavy assault on Ajdabiya rebels

 

MUAMMAR GADAFY’S forces mounted a heavy assault on Libyan rebels holding the town of Ajdabiya yesterday in a sign that the regime is stepping up efforts to regain territory in the east of the country.

Explosions were heard for several hours in the morning, forcing some of the few remaining families to flee to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, 150km away.

Dozens of vehicles, some of them rebel trucks with machine guns mounted in the back, were seen leaving Ajdabiya for Ben-ghazi. Rebels were also seen laying anti-tank mines at the eastern gate of the city. In the besieged town of Misrata in the west, rebels said six civilians were killed and dozens injured yesterday in attacks by Gadafy’s forces.

Misrata has been under heavy attack for seven weeks, with hundreds of civilians killed in the effort to rout the rebels. Witnesses have backed up reports from Human Rights Watch that Libyan government troops have been using cluster bombs. The government has denied this.

Ajdabiya is situated at a strategic junction and has changed hands several times since the conflict began. Last month, Gadafy’s troops encircled the town with tanks, armoured personnel carriers and heavy artillery. Nato air strikes enabled the rebels to hold their positions, but their inexperience and inferior firepower has prevented them from advancing towards Tripoli.

Aided by sandstorms, which have provided cover for assaults, Gadafy’s forces have increased their attacks near Ajdabiya’s western gate in recent days.

On Saturday, eight rebels were killed and 27 injured on the road leading west to the oil port of Brega, according to Dr GS Mohamed, head surgeon at Ajdabiya’s hospital. Many of the casualties occurred when a shell struck one of the rebels’ improvised rocket launchers, causing horrific burn injuries, Mohamed said. “On the open road, Gadafy’s troops are stronger and better trained. Our [rebel] forces shoot and stay in the same place, which is why they got hit yesterday. But in the town, we have the advantage.”

During a lull in fighting at midday, more than 20 rebel vehicles – pick-up trucks mounted with various weaponry – sped into Ajdabiya to provide reinforcements.

“Gadafy is trying to clear the city before sending his troops in,” said Ahmed Shomi (30), a rebel volunteer. “But with God’s help we will never allow that.”

As the humanitarian situation in the country worsens, British international development secretary Andrew Mitchell is set to travel today to the United Nations for urgent talks. He said he would discuss plans to improve lead times and access for medical supplies and other aid.

At the same time, British prime minister David Cameron denied a joint letter he published with the presidents of the US and France saying Gadafy would have to go meant regime change was the main goal of the allies’ mission. In an interview with Sky News, he said the three men had merely been expressing what was on every world leader’s mind.

Mr Cameron said there was “no question of an invasion or an occupation” under the UN resolution, and that this was making fighting the conflict “more difficult in many ways” for the coalition. But he said the allies were supplying the rebels with non-lethal material, such as body armour and communications equipment.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that Colonel Gadafy is still intent on murdering people in Misrata and taking control of that large city and also pushing towards Benghazi, where, I’m sure, if he ever got there, there would be a bloodbath,” Mr Cameron said.

“We should be taking all the necessary steps to stop that from happening and to save civilian life.” – ( Guardianservice)