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Developments on NATO campaign in Libya
30 March 2011
A NATO airstrike intended to thwart Moammar Gadhafi's forces kills 13 rebels instead, opposition officials say, but they call it an "unfortunate accident" and stress it doesn't diminish their support for the NATO air campaign that is aimed at supporting them. NATO says it's investigating.
Medical officials in the besieged western city of Misrata say government forces killed 37 rebels over the past two days.
In other developments, Libyan rebels pulled out of the oil town of Ras Lanuf onWednesday under heavy bombardment from Muammar Gaddafi's forces, showing up their weakness without Western air strikes to tip the scales in their favour.
The rapid reverse comes just two days after the rebels raced westwards along the all-important coastal road in hot pursuit of the government forces which had their tanks and artillery destroyed in five days of aerial bombardment in the town of Ajdabiyah.
Gaddafi's army first ambushed the insurgent pick-up convoy outside the city of Sirte, then outflanked them through the desert, a manoeuvre requiring the sort of discipline entirely lacking in the ragtag rebel force.
On the offensive, government tanks and artillery unleashed fierce bombardment which forced the rebels to swiftly flee. That tactic appears to have worked again in Ras Lanuf, an oil terminal town 375km (230 miles) east of the capital Tripoli.
"Gaddafi hit us with huge rockets. He has entered Ras Lanuf," rebel fighter Faraj Muftah told Reuters after pulling out of Ras Lanuf.
"We were at the western gate in Ras Lanuf and we were bombarded," said a second fighter, Hisham.
Scores of rebel 4x4 pick-ups raced east, away from Ras Lanuf, a Reuters journalist reported.
Without Western air strikes, the rebels seem unable to make advances or even hold their positions against Gaddafi's armour.
As the rebels retreated, a Reuters correspondent heard aircraft, then a series of loud booms near Ras Lanuf, but it was unclear if the sounds were the sonic boom of the jets or bombs.
But a fighter returning from Ras Lanuf, Ahmed, also told Reuters: "The French planes came and bombed Gaddafi's forces."
France was the first member of the international coalition to announce that it had launched air strikes on Libya and rebels commonly credit most air strikes to French aircraft.
A group of 40 governments and international bodies agreed to press on with a NATO-led aerial bombardment of Libyan forces, following a UN resolution calling for the implementation of a “no fly zone” above Libya to prevent air attacks by Gaddafi against civilians in rebel cities.
Libya's official JANA official news agency said air strikes by forces of "the crusader colonial aggression" hit residential areas in the town of Garyan, about 100km (60 miles) south of Tripoli, on Tuesday. It said several civilian buildings were destroyed and an unspecified number of people were wounded. A series of powerful explosions also rocked Tripoli on Tuesday and state television said several targets in the Libyan capital had come under attack in rare daytime strikes.
The representative of the Vatican, claimed that innocent civilians are getting killed in Tripoli. Giovanni Martinelli, the Catholic Bishop in the Libyan capital, said that “at least 40 civilians were killed yesterday as a result of air strikes by western powers in Tripoli”.
Martinelli claimed that “the so called humanitarian air strikes have caused the death of scores of other civilians in some neighbourhoods of Tripoli”.
UN Security Council resolution 1973 sanctions air power to protect Libyan civilians, not to provide close air support to rebel forces. That would also require troops on the ground to guide in the bombs, especially in such a rapidly changing war.
Air strikes alone may not be enough to stop the pendulum swing of Libyan desert civil warfare turning into a stalemate.
The United States and France have raised the possibility of arming and the rebels, though both stressed that no decision had yet been taken.
"I'm not ruling it in, I'm not ruling it out," US President Barack Obama said.
It is not clear, however, if the amateur army of teachers, lawyers, engineers, students and the unemployed even knows how to properly use the weapons they already have — mostly transported secretly through the Egyptian borders.
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