Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Gaddafi 's troops on their way to Benghazi
Muammar Gaddafi's forces pushed toward the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi on Wednesday and his government predicted victory within days. In Ajdabiya the rebels have come under heavy bombardment and have started retreating. This town on Libya's east coast is all that stands between the advance of Libyan government troops and the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. It lies on a road junction from where Gaddafi's forces could attempt to encircle the city. Libyan state television claimed on Tuesday pro-Gaddafi forces were already 'in total control' of the town. However, rebel fighters told Al Jazeera that Ajdabiya is still under their control.
Meanwhile, Gaddafi's forces, who have halted and reversed last month's rebel advance along the east coast, also appear to be gaining control of the nearby oil town of Brega. In the West the rebels lost their stronghold of Muwara. On Wednesday morning Gaddafi'sgtops started a bombardment of their last stronhold in this region, the town of Misurata.
Apart from the coastal road to Benghazi, there is also a 400 km (250 mile) desert road straight to Tobruk, near the Egyptian border, that would cut off Benghazi. But it was not clear whether Gaddafi's forces were strong enough to open a second front and if they could operate with such long supply lines.
The situation looks bleak for the rebels. Growing numbers of Libyans are now crossing into Egypt fleeing Gaddafi's advance, the U.N. refugee agency said.
Meanwhile the international community is still debating the possiblilitry of installing a no-fly zone. NATO has set three conditions for it to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya: regional support, proof its help is needed and a Security Council resolution. An Arab League call for a no-fly zone satisfies the first condition, but with access to most of Libya barred by Gaddafi's security forces, hard evidence that NATO intervention is needed to avert atrocities or a humanitarian disaster is scarce.
Meanwhile the Libyan government is in a winning mood. A senior Libyan foreign ministry official said the government hoped to regain control over all rebel-held territories soon. 'We hope (it will be done) as soon as possible. I hope it will be in a matter of days,' Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim told Reuters in Tripoli.
In a televised speech, Gaddafi taunted Western countries that have backed the imposition of a no-fly zone to come and get him. 'France now raises its head and says that it will strike Libya,' he told a gathering of supporters at his Bab al-Azizia fortified compound in central Tripoli. 'Strike Libya?' he asked rethorically. 'We'll be the one who strikes you! We struck you in Algeria, in Vietnam. You want to strike us? Come and give it a try.' In the speech, which was held in a huge tent in Tripoli, Gaddafi also called the rebels rats, dogs, hypocrites and traitors. As he spoke, thousands gathered in a square in the rebel stronghold Benghazi denouncing him as a tyrant and throwing shoes and other objects at his image projected upside down on a wall.