Gaddafi's army wins control of strategic town as rebels retreat
Arab League nations issue plea for a no-fly zone over state in crisis
Published 13/03/2011 | 05:00
Muammar Gaddafi's army won control of a strategic rebel-held Libyan town and laid siege to another yesterday as the revolutionary administration in Benghazi again appealed for foreign military help to prevent what it said would be the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people if the insurgents were to lose.
The rebels admitted they had retreated from the oil town of Ras Lanuf -- captured a week ago -- after two days of intense fighting and that the nearby town of Brega was now threatened.
The revolutionary army, in large part made up of inexperienced young volunteers, has been forced back by a sustained artillery, tank and air bombardment about 20 miles along the road to the rebel capital of Benghazi.
The head of Libya's revolutionary council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, yesterday claimed that if Gaddafi's forces were to reach the country's second-largest city it would result in "the death of half a million" people.
Last night the Arab League, meeting in Cairo, called on the UN security council to impose a no fly-zone on Libya as Gaddafi's forces also began to move against Misrata, a city of 300,000 people about 125 miles from Tripoli. Misrata is the only town in the west of the country still under the control of the insurgents after their defeat in a vicious battle for Zawiya. The rebels said that Misrata was now surrounded by Gaddafi's forces.
"We are bracing for a massacre," Mohamad Ahmed, a rebel fighter in the city, said. "We know it will happen and Misrata will be like Zawiya, but we believe in God. We do not have the capabilities to fight Gaddafi and his forces. They have tanks and heavy weapons and we have our belief and trust in God.
"The fighters here and the people of Misrata hold the international community responsible for the fall of Zawiya and for all the deaths that happened. Gaddafi is responsible, but they are partners in crime."
Mr Jalil again appealed for the imposition of a no-fly zone to stop air attacks on rebel forces. "If there is no no-fly zone on Gaddafi's regime, and if his ships are not checked, then we will have a catastrophe in Libya," he said.
The rebel Libyan leadership is frustrated that the EU failed to agree to a no-fly zone at a meeting on Friday and US President Obama has so far proved reluctant to apply anything more than sanctions and diplomatic pressure.
"Of course we're disappointed, because every day civilian people are either killed or injured and Gaddafi is bombing them with all kinds of weaponry," Mr Jalil said.
He also claimed, however, that the rebel army was able to call on far larger numbers of volunteers than those already fighting. He also ruled out negotiations with Gaddafi.
The revolutionary council also called for an international investigation of what it says are two vessels carrying weapons from an "eastern Arab country with Soviet-era weapons" to Tripoli. That country is believed to be Syria.