Embattled Libyan leader launches military and diplomatic offensive in a
bid to cling to power as rebels close in on him.
March 5, 2011 Al Jazeera
Rebels have wrested the entire eastern half of the country from Gaddafi's
Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, has launched a fresh military
offensive after having lost control of large swathes of his country over
the past 18 days.
Opposition to his decades-old rule has quickly swelled into a full-blown
rebellion, but Gaddafi stepped up attacks on Friday. By Saturday morning,
his forces broke through opposition defences in the city of Az Zawiyah
after heavy shelling, eyewitnesses told Al Jazeera.
"There is a very tragic situation in the city," Ahmed, a resident in Az
Zawiyah, said. "We were expecting the world to intervene but they have let
"They are shooting at Libyan citizens and we have made up our mind that we
will die," he said, as Gaddafi's forces continued to shell the town.
"It's not a matter of oil or gas being taken out of our country, it's
human lives, he said, pleading for the United Nations or the Arab League
to step in to protect Libyan civilians.
At least 30 people were killed in fierce clashes in the town by Friday
evening, as the two sides battled to control it. The death toll has
continued to climb.
The loyalist forces attacked residential areas in the city with tanks and
armoured vehicles. Gaddafi's security forces were using ambulances to
kidnap wounded people, Human Rights Solidarity, a Geneva-based
organisation, told Al Jazeera.
"Most of those attacking us are mercenaries," Lutfi Az-Zawi told Al Jazeera.
The opposition has wrested the entire eastern half of the country from
Gaddafi's grip, along with several cities in the west close to the capital
Tripoli, which is now symbolic to his defiance.
In the past few weeks, the opposition forces were able to fend off several
assaults on the territory they control.
Members of Gaddafi's government, diplomats, soldiers and even some of his
closest allies have renounced their allegiance, and foreign leaders are
becoming increasingly vocal in their calls for the besieged leader to step
Anti-Gaddafi protests had been planned on Friday afternoon in the capital,
but Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught reported that security personnel were out
in force in sensitive parts of the city, and quickly surrounded people who
appeared likely to demonstrate.
"Tripoli itself is a city almost completely locked down, electronic
communications cut off for the previous 24 hours, shops shut, particularly
nobody on the street," she said.
Meanwhile, rebels claimed control of the strategic town of Ras Lanouf,
after exchanging heavy shelling and machine gun fire with pro-Gaddafi
forces on Friday.
It was unclear what the rebels would do following the battle in Ras Lanuf.
The next major town along the coastal road to the west is Sirte, Gaddafi's
The fighting underlined how both sides are pushing against the deadlock.
Both sides are struggling to take new territory, Al Jazeera’s Jacky
"The situation in the east of the country is really a stalemate, with
anti-Gaddafi forces either unable or unwilling to advance further to the
west and to try to take the fight closer to Gaddafi's strongholds like
Sirte and Tripoli," she said.
"If you look at the rebel forces, they're a rather undisciplined, orderly
bunch," she said.
For many of the anti-Gaddafi fighters, this is their first military
The opposition has rejected the possibility of a nation divided between
the east and a Gaddafi west.
On Friday evening, at least 12 people were killed and another 10 injured
after explosions took place at an ammunition dump near Benghazi. There
were conflicting reports regarding the cause of the blast.
Hospital sources said it was triggered when people went into the storage
facility to collect weapons, while others blamed pro-Gaddafi forces.
In Benghazi itself, where the uprising began, there was more defiance on
Friday. Religious leaders there called for the people to keep up the
Read more of our Libya coverage
"Gadaffi is in hiding, He is not representing anybody any longer. He is a
coward and he won't challenge the people and it is only a matter of time,"
Mahdee Kashbour, a member of the Opposition Transitional Committee, a
newly established authority, told Al Jazeera.
Yet even in the rebels' heartland, there is caution. People there know
Gadaffi has weathered international storms and sanctions before most
notably after the downing of Pan Am 103 flight more than 20 years ago.
"We need to think about the people in Tripoli, we need to think about the
life of Libyans first as a priority," Dr. Hana El Jalal, a Libyan analyst
said, calling on the international community to act immediately.
“Throughout Libya today, there is still uncertainty, there is still anger
and there is still death,” Al Jazeera’s Tony Birtley reported.
In a bid to push back on the diplomatic front, Gaddafi's government on
Friday asked that Ali Abdussalam Treki, a senior Libyan diplomat, be
accepted as the country's new envoy to the UN.
Gaddafi's government made its first official reaction to sanctions
announced by the UN, in a letter by Mussa Kussa, his foreign minister.
The letter called for the travel ban and assets freeze ordered against
Gaddafi and his close aides "to be suspended until such time as the truth
Kussa demanded that the Security Council "stand up to the states that are
threatening force against it."
The foreign minister added that military action against Libya would be
"inconsistent" with the UN charter and international law and "compromise a
threat to peace and security in the region and indeed the whole world."
Western powers say they are studying a no-fly zone against Libya to
prevent attacks on civilians. Yet diplomats say that no official request
for such action has been made to the UN Security Council.