Libyan government presses rebel assault in east and west
RAS LANUF, Libya — Government warplanes taunted rebels with flyovers and repeatedly bombed their positions near this coastal city’s oil refinery Monday, seeking to drive the opposition forces back farther to the east, as Libya continued what appeared to be a slide into civil war.
The air attacks, which injured a family of five, added a note of urgency to a growing debate in Western capitals about imposing a no-fly zone over Libya.
There were conflicting reports about the casualties after the airstrikes. Witnesses had said a man died when the car was hit, but doctors at a local hospital said the man, along with four relatives, survived.
The steady attacks from the air helped further turn the momentum of the conflict in eastern Libya, where opposition fighters had made strong gains recently in their drive to the west toward Surt — a stronghold of Moammar Gadhafi — and on to Tripoli. But on Sunday, troops loyal to Gadhafi stormed the town of Bin Jawwad, just to the west of Ras Lanuf, backed by fierce air power, and sent the fighters holding it into retreat.
In addition, the elite Khamis Brigade continued Monday to batter the opposition-held city of Zawiyah, west of Tripoli, with tanks, artillery, and snipers, residents there said. With cell phone and Internet communications cut off, virtually the only source of information on events there was a lone reporter for Sky TV, the British television channel. She said the heavily armed government troops attacked in the morning and inexplicably withdrew after several hours, even though their tanks seemed to have taken control of the city’s central square.
Government forces also attacked the rebel-held city of Misrata, Libya’s third largest, which lies about 100 miles east of Tripoli.
The rebels have rejected any foreign invasion of the country but would welcome a no-fly zone, saying they can handle Gadhafi’s soldiers, tanks, and rockets, but not his warplanes and helicopter gunships. On Monday, Britain and France said they would seek U.N. authority for a no-fly zone, but Russia, which holds veto power, has already rejected any form of military intervention.
In Tripoli, the Libyan foreign minister, Musa Kusa, held an extraordinary news conference in which he accused the U.S. and Britain of “yearning for the colonial era” and seeking to divide the country. He maintained that a force of about 300 al-Qaida fighters formerly held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay was backing rebel forces.