Libya Rebels Push to Regain Town as NATO Weighs No-Fly Zone

Rebel Fighters Take Cover
Libyan rebel fighters take cover as a bomb dropped by a fighter jet explodes near a checkpoint on the outskirts of Ras Lanuf on Monday. Photographer: Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images

Libyan rebel fighters prepared an offensive to regain a town lost to Muammar Qaddafi’s forces as the U.S. and its allies stepped up discussion on imposing a no-fly zone that may help the insurgents win the civil war.

Opposition forces are seeking to recapture Bin Jawad, about 110 miles (160 kilometers) east of Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, after pulling out in the face of reinforced government troops, Khaled el-Sayeh, a coordinator between the fighters and their ruling council in Benghazi, said by phone. Qaddafi’s forces hit rebels in the area today with rocket barrages and airstrikes, the Associated Press reported.

Rebel officials asserted their fight is going well, contradicting news reports today that Qaddafi’s forces were advancing in places such in Zawiyah, which has been the rebel-held city nearest the capital, Tripoli.

“We have triumphed, we have prevailed. And it’s only a matter of time,” rebel council spokesman Abdulhafid Ghoga told reporters in Benghazi today. “When mercenaries stop coming in, and the planes, we will liberate the other cities, including Tripoli.”

While there was no letup in fighting, crude fell from a 29-month high in New York as members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries discussed holding a special meeting on increasing production. Crude oil for April delivery dropped 42 cents to settle at $105.02 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Futures are up 28 percent from a year ago.

‘Full Spectrum’

President Barack Obama and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron in a telephone call today discussed international actions to stop attacks on Libyan citizens, the White House said in a statement. They agreed to start planning a “full spectrum of possible responses,” including military surveillance, humanitarian aid, enforcement of an arms embargo and imposition of a no-fly zone, according to statements from the White House and Prime Minister’s office.

“They agreed that the common objective in Libya must be an immediate end to brutality and violence, the departure of Qaddafi from power as quickly as possible and a transition that meets the Libyan peoples’ aspirations,” the White House statement said.

Artillery Sites

Air strikes yesterday around the ports of Ras Lanuf and Brega and the nearby desert area of Al Agaila didn’t inflict any losses on the rebels, and mostly targeted artillery installations, el-Sayeh said.

Qaddafi lacks adequate ground troops to put down a national uprising, which explains his use of air strikes, said a member of the opposition movement.

Mahmoud Jebril, who belongs to the National Transition Council based in the eastern city of Benghazi, said today that Qaddafi relies largely on “security brigades” led mainly by his sons and loyal officers.

“Those brigades are not big in numbers, but they are well trained,” Jebril told a group of European Parliament members in Strasbourg, France. “Those forces cannot be enough to put down any uprising. The scope is a nationwide revolution. Out of the 10 big cities in Libya, seven are under the control of the revolution.”

No-Fly Zone

Jebril called for foreign powers to impose a no-fly zone to ground Qaddafi’s warplanes while stressing that they should avoid “direct” military intervention in the country.

Qaddafi’s military has made forays into Zawiyah without taking control, Mustafa Gheriani, spokesman for the rebel fighters, said today in an interview in Benghazi. Qaddafi’s forces carried out air strikes on Zawiyah yesterday and it was being besieged today, el-Sayeh said.

Earlier, the Associated Press, citing a witness who declined to be identified on concern over reprisals, said Qaddafi loyalists recaptured Zawiyah after heavy shelling, and that Libyan army tanks and vehicles were roaming the streets and firing at homes.

Al Jazeera television said that Qaddafi asked a former prime minister, Jadallah Azzuz Talhi, to negotiate a safe departure for himself and family members. Qaddafi’s son Saadi ruled out any such deal in an interview with Al Arabiya television, and it was also rejected by the rebel council.

The rebels’ “demands are clear: No negotiations,” said Ghoga, the rebel council spokesman.

‘Stop the Carnage’

Rebel representatives met with Italian officials in Benghazi and are awaiting “an advanced position from Italy to support the revolution,” Ghoga said. The U.S. also may be considering sending a delegation to Libya, he said without saying where he received the information.

He said a UN-imposed no-fly zone would settle the conflict in the rebels’ favor.

“We expect the UN to impose no-fly zone, that’s the least they can do to stop the carnage,” Ghoga said.

Hague said told reporters in London today that a no-fly zone over Libya is a “realistic, practical possibility,” though it will need international support and a legal basis to operate.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization defense ministers are due to meet March 10 and 11 in Brussels to discuss Libya. The U.S. ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder, said the alliance is stepping up surveillance of Libyan airspace with radar planes, and “will be in a position to know what it would take to do a no-fly zone” toward the end of this week.

GCC Call

The six Persian Gulf states of the Gulf Cooperation Council called on the UN to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilians, the group’s Secretary-General, Abdul Rahman Al Attiyah, said in Abu Dhabi after a meeting yesterday. The Arab League today delayed its planned meeting on Libya by one day, to March 12.

The UN and 17 aid organizations appealed yesterday for $160 million to provide food, water, medicine and shelter for 400,000 people escaping the violence and another 600,000 inside the country.

The Libyan revolt is the bloodiest in a wave of popular uprisings in the Middle East in the past two months that have toppled Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. There have also been anti-government demonstrations in Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq and Oman, calling for moves toward democracy and action to improve living standards.

Protests resumed in Yemen today with tens of thousands calling for the immediate resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Police fired on protesters in the capital, Sana’a, Al Jazeera reported, without stating the number of casualties.

Gulf leaders meeting this week are debating a financial aid package for Bahrain and Oman, which have both seen demonstrators killed in clashes with security forces.