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Libyan Rebels Beat Back Qaddafi Forces’ Attack on Ajdabiya

Rebels Load Ammunition in Ajdabiya
Libyan rebels load machine-gun ammunition into a truck at the western gate in Ajdabiya on Saturday. Photographer: Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images

Libya’s rebels, fighting mainly from pickup trucks mounted with machine guns, repelled an attack from Muammar Qaddafi’s forces on the city of Ajdabiya.

Qaddafi loyalists had earlier shelled Ajdabiya, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, Mustafa Gheriani, spokesman for the rebels’ National Transitional Council, said in an interview.

Rebels have struggled for weeks to take and hold cities in central Libya, which have been the focus of most of the fighting since the uprising began in February, calling for deliveries of heavy weaponry and for the coalition led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to increase attacks.

“The rebels don’t have the logistics or organization to move forward with major objectives at this time,” said Andrew Terrill, a Middle East specialist at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. “Unless we see large scale surrender from Qaddafi loyalists, I don’t see too many cities changing hands.”

Qaddafi’s bombing of Misrata, the main rebel-held city in the west and Libya’s third-largest city, killed 17 people yesterday, Al Jazeera television reported. About 300,000 civilians are trapped in Misrata.

Civilians Killed

One attack, possibly from a ground-to-ground rocket, killed at least eight civilians waiting in line for bread, while another injured four at a medical clinic, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in an e-mailed statement today.

“Libyan government forces have repeatedly fired mortars and Grad rockets into residential neighborhoods in Misrata, causing civilian casualties,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. “The Soviet-made Grad in particular is one of the world’s most inaccurate rocket systems and should never be fired in areas with civilians.”

Oil declined for the first time in four days in New York after Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest exporter, said the global market has adequate crude supplies. Crude oil for May delivery slid as much as $1.19 to $108.47 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract was at $108.66 at 10:55 a.m. London time.

Damaged Oil Fields

The Libyan rebels’ oil chief was quoted by the Associated Press as saying the opposition forces won’t sell any more oil until production resumes, possibly in a few weeks. Wahid Bughaigis was cited by the AP as saying that rebels are still assessing the damage to oil fields they control after attacks by Qaddafi loyalists.

The fighting has nearly halted oil exports from Libya, which holds Africa’s largest oil reserves.

Rebels are advancing on the oil city of Brega and six rebels were killed and 20 injured in fighting around the city, the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper said.

With NATO air attacks on Qaddafi’s troops and supplies slowly crippling his war machine, “time is much more on the rebels’ side,” said the U.S. Army War College’s Terrill. “The rebels are getting stronger and Qaddafi is getting weaker; I don’t see the urgency of mounting an offensive.”

Qaddafi Under Pressure

Even without the allies putting troops on the ground, Qaddafi can be forced out, French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said in an interview with the Parisien newspaper.

“Coalition aircraft can destroy Qaddafi’s supply chain as they move east in the open, but in urban combat I have to concede that while air power can avoid a tragedy, it can’t solve the problem.”

He said Qaddafi’s forces number no more than 10,000 men.

Allied aircraft enforcing the United Nations-mandated no-fly zone and sanctions on Libya carried out 42 strike sorties yesterday, the NATO said in a statement from its operational headquarters in Naples, Italy.

Near the Qaddafi-held capital, Tripoli, aircraft under NATO command destroyed two ammunition bunkers and an anti-aircraft missile site, the alliance said. Two tanks, an armored personnel carrier and a number of other pieces of equipment and ammunition dumps were knocked out by NATO planes. None of the reported strikes were near Ajdabiya.

Aid to Tripoli

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the UN has reached an agreement with the Libyan government to provide humanitarian aid to Tripoli. Ban, speaking in Budapest, said the UN already has a humanitarian presence in the rebels’ stronghold of Benghazi. “We will try to expand our humanitarian activities,” he said.

U.K. International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell will travel to the UN today for talks on aid requirements in Libya, his ministry said in an e-mailed statement.

“The humanitarian situation in Misrata is of great concern. The international community should be ready to respond,” Mitchell said in the statement. “It is vital that we continue to get help, such as food, water or medical supplies, through to people. Humanitarian agencies must be given free and unfettered access to Misrata and other areas affected by fighting.”

In other news from the region, Yemen’s opposition coalition rejected a plan by six Gulf states to end unrest, saying that the swift departure of Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh isn’t negotiable.

Police in Yemen used live ammunition, tear gas and water cannon to disperse tens of thousands of protesters marching in the capital, Sana’a, injuring at least 100, according to Abdulmalik al-Yusufi, a doctor at a field clinic along the protest route.

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