Forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi battled rebels in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, as the opposition National Transitional Council said the North African nation’s humanitarian aid needs are “urgent.”
Security is “a top priority, but we cannot achieve such a goal without being able financially and economically to establish our power and the NTC rule,” the council’s prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, told reporters today in Istanbul.
Since entering Tripoli this week, after breaking a stalemate in a six-month effort backed by airstrikes from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, rebel leaders say they are trying to establish a working administration and are moving the council’s headquarters from Benghazi in the east to Tripoli.
Pro-Qaddafi forces attacked the capital’s airport during the night after he urged supporters to “cleanse Tripoli of the rats.” At least four planes, including an Airbus A330, were destroyed by rocket fire, Al Arabiya reported. Loyalists continued to shell the airport today, the broadcaster said.
Qaddafi’s audio message, issued from hiding while rebels were hunting him with intelligence help from NATO, included a call for Muslim clerics to incite Libyans for “jihad” against his enemies. The audiotape was aired by Syria-based Al Oruba TV.
“As the Libyan regime and its forces begin to melt away you have residual groups who are going to continue to fight,” Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said by phone yesterday. “They will start to target airports, seaports, oil and gas infrastructure and anything that represents the authority of the new government.”
Rebel leaders worked to retrieve assets frozen by the United Nations and individual countries in an effort to obtain funding for food, and humanitarian and medical needs, transitional council Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil said at a press conference in Benghazi yesterday.
The UN Security Council gave the U.S. permission to release $1.5 billion in frozen Libyan government assets in three disbursements for emergency aid, fuel and power and for health and education. About $30 billion in Libyan assets is held in the U.S., and has been beyond the reach of the rebels.
Italy has freed up 350 million euros ($505 million) in Libyan assets, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said yesterday. Germany, which holds about 7.3 billion euros in Libyan assets, is providing a loan of $140 million to the transitional council as an advance.
Council officials will travel to Cairo tomorrow for a meeting with the Arab League foreign ministers where they hope to formally fill Libya’s seat, Jibril said today.
“We call on Qaddafi, his family and his supporters to bring an end to their continuing violence for the sake of the Libyan people and Libya’s future,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement from Washington yesterday.
Amid the fighting in parts of Tripoli, medical staff were unable to reach hospitals to treat the injured, though areas of the city secured by the opposition are calm and have water and electricity, said Robin Waudo of the International Committee of the Red Cross in a telephone interview from the capital yesterday. Since fighting began in Libya, the number of people killed has “exceeded 20,000,” Abdel Jalil said yesterday.
Push Toward Sirte
To the east of the capital, rebel fighters pushed toward Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte. They were negotiating with tribal leaders to enter the city without violence, council defense spokesman Colonel Ahmed Bani said from Benghazi, while fighting continued yesterday in the southern city of Sabha between Qaddafi loyalists and the rebels.
British aircraft attacked a bunker in Sirte, the Ministry of Defence in London said today. NATO struck targets including 29 armored vehicles in Sirte and a surface-to-air missile launcher, the organization said in an e-mailed statement today.
In Bin Jawad, near Ras Lanuf, home to Libya’s biggest oil refinery, there were clashes today between the two sides, Al Arabiya said. Rebel forces claimed the capture of strategic positions around the city, including a military warehouse where the embattled regime stored tanks, Al Arabiya reported.
NATO special forces are now based in Misrata, from where they call in airstrikes and advise opposition fighters, a rebel officer from the city said yesterday. Two teams, one British and one French, have been guiding alliance warplanes in attacking government targets around the city for several weeks, said Mohammed Subka, a communications specialist in the Al Watum, or My Home, brigade.
“Rebel fighters are doing the bulk of the work,” said Karasik. “No one has thought through yet the aftermath of taking Tripoli, so this next week will be very telling as far as their ability to hold on to their gains.”
The conflict has all but halted oil exports from Libya, which has the largest proven reserves of any African country. Output dropped to 100,000 barrels a day in July, down from the 1.6 million barrels pumped before the uprising started.
Crude oil for October delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 70 cents to $84.60 a barrel at 12:19 a.m. London time. Brent oil for October settlement dropped 49 cents to $110.13 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange.
Rome-based Eni SpA will begin supplying the transitional council with gasoline and diesel fuel in the coming days that will eventually be paid for with crude oil, Chief Executive Officer Paolo Scaroni said yesterday after meeting Jibril. Eni, the biggest foreign investor in Libya, saw most of its production halted by the conflict.