Qaddafi’s Forces Hit 100 Miles from Rebel Capital as Clinton Meets Leaders

Muammar Qaddafi’s warplanes carried out air strikes against rebels in the town of Ajdabiya for a second day, as the Libyan leader’s offensive sparked disagreements among Western nations over how to respond.

Air force jets pounded Ajdabiya and the road linking it to the oil port of Brega, where rebels and government troops have been fighting for control, said Mohamed El Megaryef, a resident. Helicopters dropped leaflets promising amnesty for people who backed Qaddafi, he said. Government forces recaptured Zwara, the last rebel-held town west of the capital, Tripoli, after an artillery bombardment today, the Associated Press reported.

Momentum in the monthlong conflict has swung toward Qaddafi, whose troops have recaptured the oil port of Ras Lanuf, the nearby town of Bin Jawad, and the western city of Zawiyah. Control of Brega has been contested between the sides after three days of fighting, with rebels saying they are able to re- enter by night. Qaddafi’s tanks and aircraft have driven back many of the comparatively lightly armed insurgents, who are calling for Western support to end his four-decade rule.

In the rebel base of Benghazi, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Ajdabiya, spokesman Mustafa Gheriani said dozens were killed and hundreds wounded in air strikes on Zwara, though he added that Qaddafi’s bombardment of such towns doesn’t necessarily mean that government ground forces are able to control them.

“This is a war crime, and the whole world is watching, I’m not sure exactly what they are waiting for,” Gheriani said.

Misrata Surrounded

Misrata, the largest city in western Libya still held by the rebels, is surrounded by Qaddafi’s forces and expecting an attack, said Salim, a resident of the city, who spoke by phone today and declined to give his surname on concern he would face reprisals.

Crude, which rose to a 2 1/2-year high on the fighting in Libya, holder of Africa’s largest oil reserves, has pared gains this week on traders’ anticipation the earthquake in Japan will reduce demand. Oil for April delivery dropped 3.7 percent to $97.50 at 8:15 a.m. in New York.

Libya’s oil production and exports may remain off the market for many months due to damage to oil facilities and international sanctions, the International Energy Agency said today. Output had slumped to a “trickle” by last week, from 1.58 million barrels a day in January, the IEA said.

In Paris, Group of Eight foreign ministers failed to agree on measures such as a no-fly zone over Libya that have been sought by the rebels to help them defeat Qaddafi. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he couldn’t persuade Russia to sign on to an aerial blockade as other allies, including Germany, opposed military intervention.

Bombing Airfields

Mahmood Jibril, foreign affairs representative of the Libyan opposition council, met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Paris late yesterday and urged the bombing of three airfields, a U.S. official told reporters after the meeting. The U.S. and allies are still reviewing possible actions, including imposition of a no-fly zone, White House press sectary Jay Carney said yesterday in Washington.

The Arab League also backed a no-fly zone, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which would be responsible for implementing it, said such action requires United Nations authorization. The UN Security Council met yesterday to discuss options for a possible resolution later in the week.

To contact the reporters on this story: Ola Galal in Benghazi at ogalal@bloomberg.net; Massoud A. Derhally in Beirut at mderhally@bloomberg.net; Alaa Shahine in Dubai at asalha@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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