Libyan rebels are making gains in the three-month conflict against Muammar Qaddafi’s troops, advancing on the strategic oil town of Brega along the central coast after fighters gained control of most of Misrata.
The rebels, who control most of eastern Libya, also say they are pushing westward from Misrata, which lies about 180 kilometers (116 miles) east of Tripoli, the capital. Their political leaders visited Washington and London seeking aid, including access to frozen assets, as NATO bombed Tripoli.
“The rebels may be getting the upper hand because of external support, but it is too early to call,” Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said in response to e-mailed questions. “We have to wait to see if another brick wall emerges. Qaddafi may have more tricks up his sleeve.”
The insurgency against Qaddafi’s four-decade rule in Libya, which has Africa’s biggest proven crude reserves, has helped push up oil prices by almost 15 percent since mid-February. Crude oil for June delivery yesterday increased 76 cents to settle at $98.97 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices are up 31 percent from a year ago.
In Washington, a delegation from the opposition Libyan Transitional National Council is scheduled to meet today at the White House with Tom Donilon, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, the administration said in a statement. Delegation leader Mahmoud Jibril, scheduled also to meet with Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy, is appealing to administration officials and lawmakers on Capitol Hill to allow access to frozen Libyan assets to fund the rebels’ fight and provide humanitarian assistance.
NATO forces struck Qaddafi’s Tripoli compound early yesterday, hours after the Libyan leader appeared on state television for the first time since April 30, when NATO attacks on his compound killed his son Saif al-Arab and three of his grandchildren. A Libyan official said that Qaddafi had moved away from the Bab al-Aziziya compound some time ago, the Associated Press reported.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization denied a Libyan government report that it had bombed the North Korean embassy in Tripoli. The target hit was a “large” command-and-control bunker located 500 meters from the embassy, the alliance said in a statement.
Warships from Canada, the U.K. and France early yesterday thwarted an attack on Misrata’s port by “a number of fast, small boats” and the alliance ships came under artillery fire from regime forces ashore as the small boats retreated, NATO said on its website.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday in London that the rebels’ Transitional National Council represents the future of Libya and that he had asked the group to set up an office in London.
The U.K. will also provide equipment valued at “several million pounds” to the police in Benghazi and enhance Britain’s presence in the rebel stronghold, Cameron said.
“We will work with you to ensure the international community increases the economic, diplomatic and military pressure on this bankrupt regime,” Cameron said at a press conference with Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the head of the council.
Rebel fighters in Misrata were able to push back government forces using newly arrived light weapons, Jalil said, speaking during a separate press conference in London with Foreign Secretary William Hague. He expected the people of Tripoli to rise up and overthrow Qaddafi, whom he described as a “legitimate target.”
“The revolutionary forces in Misrata have achieved successive victories as a result of shipments of light weapons that they were able to obtain,” Jalil said. “If we have the minimum amount of armaments for our fighters in Misrata, az-Zawiya and Zuwarah, then this will have a great impact on the revolution within Tripoli. This is what we are hoping for.”
Since the start of its mission, NATO has completed more than 2,400 so-called strike sorties, when warplanes identify targets though don’t always fire munitions, according to a statement on the alliance’s website. Among the targets on May 10 were six vehicle storage sites, three ammunition deposits and a surface-to-air missile launcher, NATO said. About 20 NATO ships are patrolling the central Mediterranean Sea.
The rebels appointed new economy and interior ministers for their executive body on May 11. Abdullah Shamiya, who spent years as a political prisoner under Qaddafi, was named economy minister, Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice president of the Transitional National Council, said in a telephone interview. A judge, Ahmed Hussein, was appointed minister for the interior and local governance, Ghoga said.
The Libyan consul in Cairo, Faraj Saeed Al-Arabi, said in comments aired yesterday on Al Arabiya television that he was resigning and joining the rebels.