Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi brought the war for the first time to the rebel capital, with three of his warplanes bombing Benghazi airport before being chased off by anti-aircraft fire.
Qaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, scoffed at today’s UN Security Council discussions about authorizing a no-fly zone. “It’s too late,” he said in an interview with EuroNews television, according to a transcript on its website. “In 48 hours, we will have finished our military operation. We are at the gates of Benghazi.”
His timetable may be optimistic, since his forces were still facing rebel resistance 100 miles away. Libya’s state-run television appealed to residents of Benghazi to support government troops. The army “is coming to secure you and to lift the injustice and horror off you and to protect your pure souls and precious blood,” said the broadcast, which has been airing since yesterday.
There have been few signs of rebels making defensive preparations on the city’s outskirts, the Associated Press reported. The International Committee of the Red Cross today pulled its staff from the coastal city, relocating to Tobruk, close to the Egyptian border, according to a news release on its website.
“We are extremely concerned about what will happen to civilians, the sick and wounded, detainees and others who are entitled to protection in times of conflict,” Simon Brooks, head of the ICRC mission in Libya, said in the release.
On the ground, government forces continued to fight pockets of rebel resistance Ajdabiya, a city 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Benghazi, and attacked the blockaded city of Misrata, the last rebel holdout near Tripoli.
Libya’s crude oil exports may be halted for “many months” because of damage to facilities and international sanctions, the International Energy Agency said yesterday. Crude oil for April delivery rose 80 cents, or 0.8 percent, to settle at $97.98 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil is 20 percent higher than a year ago.
The UN Security Council was meeting through the afternoon on Libya, with Russia proposing the body issue a formal call for a cease-fire. French President Nicolas Sarkozy sent a letter to the other leaders of Council nations saying it is “high time” to respond to the Libya situation with a no-fly zone.
“Together, we can save the martyred people of Libya,” he said, according to an e-mail from the French Embassy in Washington. “It is now a matter of days, if not hours.”
The death toll from the fighting may reach 15,000, Mustafa Gheriani, a media coordinator for the rebels, said today by telephone from the rebel capital.
In Benghazi, three fighter jets from Qaddafi’s fleet carried out air strikes on the airport that is currently being used by the rebels as an airbase, breaking off their attack amid anti-aircraft fire, Ahmed Omar, a military spokesman for the opposition, said today by telephone. Rebel aircraft bombed government forces near Ajdabiya today, Al Jazeera television said. Misrata was shelled by government tanks from three directions early today, Reda Almountasser, a resident, said by phone.
In his EuroNews interview, Qaddafi said rebels should flee to Egypt while they can. “We have no intention of killing them or taking revenge on these traitors who have betrayed our people,” he said. “We say to them that they can run into Egypt quite safely because Libya no longer belongs to them. A lot of them have already left for Egypt.”
Libyan rebels yesterday seized a ship carrying 25,000 metric tons of fuel that was heading to Tripoli, Gheriani said. The fuel will be used in power plants and other facilities in rebel-held areas, he said.
The Anwaar Afriqya, with a crew of 22, was hijacked and diverted to the port of Tobruk near the border with Egypt, where it is now docked, GNMTC, a Libyan-owned shipping line, said today in an e-mailed statement. The ship holds 23,800 metric tons of gasoline loaded in Greece, it said. It was not immediately clear if GNMTC was referring to the same vessel.
Foreign Ministers from the Group of Eight nations failed to agree yesterday on imposing a no-fly zone. In Paris, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe of France, which along with the U.K. has pressed for aggressive action against Qaddafi, said he couldn’t persuade Russia to agree to a no-fly zone as other allies, including Germany, raised objections to military intervention. Juppe hosted a meeting of his G-8 counterparts yesterday in Paris.
“We do not want to get sucked into a war in North Africa,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters at the meeting. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini proposed the convening of a European, Arab and African summit to discuss the almost monthlong fighting in Libya, Al-Jazeera reported today.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said leaving Qaddafi in power would send a “terrible message” not only to the Libyan people but also to those in the region who desire democracy and stability.
Pushing a no-fly resolution through the UN Security Council will not be “simple,” Cameron told lawmakers in Parliament in London today. “I am not arguing a no-fly zone is a simple solution to the problem, of course it’s not.”