Rebels panic as Gaddafi orders all-out assault
Published 16/03/2011 | 05:00
COL Gaddafi announced an imminent assault on Benghazi last night after world leaders refused all forms of military intervention in Libya.
France and Britain failed to persuade other powers meeting in Paris to impose a no-fly zone over the country, where pro-Gaddafi forces claimed to have taken the last major town before the rebel stronghold.
The no-fly proposal was absent from the G8 foreign ministers' closing statement in Paris, following resistance from Russia, Germany and the US. China, a United Nations security council veto-holder, is also opposed.
Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister said: "If we had used military force last week to neutralise some airstrips and the several dozen planes that they have, perhaps the reversal taking place to the detriment of the opposition wouldn't have happened. We have perhaps missed a chance to restore the balance." Col Gaddafi said Germany, Russia and China would now be rewarded with business deals and oil contracts.
Residents of Ajdabiya in eastern Libya said government soldiers entered its streets before nightfall and quickly encircled the town.
The army announced on state TV last night that it was preparing to reclaim Benghazi. "The armed forces are arriving to ensure your security, undo the injustice done to you, protect you, restore calm and bring life back to normal," the statement said. Rebels who had lost a string of oil towns in the past week had planned to dig in to defend the town.
Without it, they must face the possibility of an overwhelming assault on Benghazi's million-strong population from the government's superior firepower. But by early afternoon, fighters were retreating from Ajdabiya amid scenes of panic.
Cars crammed with children filled the road to Benghazi as families joined the rout, joining pick-ups packed with soldiers and trucks fitted with anti-aircraft guns. All the while the crump of exploding rockets echoed through the streets.
Sherif Layas (34) who was a marketing manager before he took up arms and joined Libya's revolution, said that Gaddafi's forces were about to reach the point where the rebels would be unable to resist without outside help. "This is the death line, right here," he said.
Insurgents have been desperately calling for a no-fly zone, and the Arab League came out in support over the weekend. (Daily Telegraph, London)