Gaddafi unleashes warplanes to bomb his own cities as U.S. warns that Libya is spiralling towards ‘full-blown civil war’
U.S. military ships move closer to Libya
2 US ships move closer to Libya, enter Suez Canal
The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 2, 2011 | 1:19 a.m.
Egyptian officials say two U.S. warships have entered the Suez Canal on their way to the Mediterranean, moving closer to the Libyan coast after orders from Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
The officials say amphibious assault ships USS Kearsarge and USS Ponce, entered the canal on Wednesday morning from the Red Sea. They say USS Kearsarge is carrying some 42 helicopters on board.
The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the media.
Gates said on Tuesday he had ordered two ships into the Mediterranean and he is sending 400 Marines to the vessels to replace some troops that left recently for Afghanistan.
Gates also said any military action in Libya must
Panic: Emergency services attend to the scene of a fuel-tanker explosion, which security forces at the scene said was due to a road accident
Rising from the flames: A man waves a poster of Gaddafi that were distributed after a fuel tanker explosion in Tripoli this morning
Gaddafi’s barrage of attacks today and last night are the most brutal retaliation yet and send a defiant message to world leaders which only yesterday had discussed military action.
Forces loyal to the Libyan leader also retook control of an oil installation in Brega, south west of Ajdabiya, according to Ahmed Jerksi, manager of the Sirte oil company which runs the facility.
A convoy of 100 military vehicles was said to be advancing on the town where an arms depot has also been bombed.
The escalating violence brought further warnings from the international community with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying the situation risked deteriorating into full-blown ‘civil war’.
She told Congress yesterday that the U.S. must lead an international response to the crisis, including expanding already tough financial and travel sanctions against Gaddafi, his family and confidants and possibly imposing a no-fly zone over Libya.
‘In the years ahead, Libya could become a peaceful democracy, or it could face protracted civil war. The stakes are high,’ she said.
The clashes were followed by a fuel truck explosion in the capital Tripoli which officials feared could have been a deliberate act of sabotage.
Dozens of terrified resident panicked when the truck caught fire and flipped on its side as it exploded today.
Four fire engines arrived and were battling the flames. Residents attacked foreign reporters who rushed to the scene and chased them back to a nearby hotel where many of them are staying.
Gaddafi, Libya’s ruler of 41 years, has already lost the eastern half of the country to rebels backed by army troops who had defected.
There are several towns near Tripoli that also fell in rebel hands but Gaddafi is now understood to have reclaimed some of them.
One of those retaken was the strategic mountain town of Gharyan, the largest in the Nafusa Mountains, which overlooks Tripoli, a resident said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of government retaliation.
The town fell after dark Friday in a surprise attack, and the government troops detained officers who defected to the rebels and drew up lists of wanted protesters and started searching for them, the resident added.
Gaddafi supporters also have said they were in control of the city of Sabratha, west of Tripoli, which has seemed to go back and forth between the two camps in the past week.
But witnesses in Zawiya, 30 miles west of the capital, said rebels shouted ‘Allahu akbar (God is great) for our victory,’ and carried an air force colonel who had just defected after six hours of overnight gunbattles failed to dislodge anti-Gaddafi forces who control the city.
‘We were worried about air raids but that did not happen,’ said one resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
The more strongly armed Zawiya rebels have tanks, machine guns and anti-aircraft guns. They beat back pro-Gaddafi troops, armed with the same weapons, who attacked from six directions. There was no word on casualties.
In Misrata, 125 miles east of Tripoli, pro-Gaddafi troops who control part of an air base on the city’s outskirts tried to advance yesterday. But they were beaten by opposition forces, who included residents with automatic weapons and defected army units allied with them, one of the opposition fighters said.
Amid the intensified fighting, the international community today stepped up moves to isolate the long-time Libyan leader.
And the uprisings have led to concerns of a ‘humanitarian disaster’ as thousands of refugees lok to flee the country.
U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates said he ordered two ships into the Mediterranean, including the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge, and he is sending 400 Marines to the vessel to replace some troops that left recently for Afghanistan.
The Obama administration is conscious that it may need to flex US muscle to help usher Gaddafi out of power but is fearful of provoking even deadlier violence from a regime that has shown little restraint in attacking its own people.
The US military also has no interest in getting bogged down in a third war.
Mr Gates said yesterday that any military action in the North African country must be carefully considered because it would have broad consequences for the region and the US military, affecting even the effort in Afghanistan.
Military leaders weighing a no-fly zone over Libya said it would be a complex task that would require taking out Gaddafi’s air defences. Russia’s top diplomat distanced the country from idea which he dismissed as ‘superfluous’ and said world powers should focus on sanctions.
Gaddafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, responded by warning Western forces not to take military action against Libya and said the country is prepared to defend itself against foreign intervention.
‘If they attack us, we are ready,’ he told Sky News yesterday, adding that the Gaddafis are ready to implement reforms.
Today’s wave of bombings are a direct response to the proposed international intervention discussed yesterday by world leaders including David Cameron and Hillary Clinton.
Facing an unprecedented challenge to his 41-year rule, Gaddafi’s regime has launched the bloodiest crackdown in a wave of uprising against authoritarian rulers in the Middle East.
Gaddafi has already lost control of the eastern half of the country but still holds Tripoli and other nearby cities.
Retaliation: Gaddafi responded to possible international intervention in Libya by asserting his power with a brutal crackdown on the rebel strongholds
An exact death toll has been difficult to obtain in the chaos, but a medical committee in the eastern city of Benghazi, where the uprising began on February 15, said at least 228 people had been killed, including 30 unidentified bodies, and 1,932 wounded.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has cited reports that perhaps 1,000 have died in Libya.
Gaddafi’s regime has retaken at least two towns and threatened a third, while rebels resisted attacks on three other key areas – Misrata to the east, Zawiya to the west, and the mountain town of Zintan to the south of the capital.
The move came as the U.N. adopted a an unprecedented resolution to suspend Libya from its seat on the 47-member chamber Human Rights Council
Ban Ki-moon told the General Assembly that he welcomed the decision and urged the international community to investigate allegations of human rights violations in Libya.
‘The world has spoken with one voice,’ he said. ‘We demand an immediate end to the violence toward civilians and full respect for their fundamental human rights, including those of peaceful assembly and free speech.’
‘Arms depots and arsenals have reportedly been opened to gangs who terrorize communities. There are reports that government forces have fired indiscriminately on peaceful protesters and bombed the military bases in the east of the country.’
Mr Ki-Moon added that Gaddafi’s supporters ‘appear to be holding a tight grip on western parts of the country, chiefly Tripoli’.
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Rebel soldiers teach civilians who have volunteered to join the rebel army at a school in Benghazi March 2, 2011. The rebel army is preparing to fightLibyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces if necessary, an official in the rebel army said
A crowd of several hundred pro-Kadhafi supporters rally at the site where a petrol tanker exploded on March 2, near the compound of Libyan leader MoamerKadhafi in Tripoli. Two US warships are heading towards Libya on the 16th day of unrest in the country
A rebel soldier teaches civilians who have volunteered to join the rebel army at a school in Benghazi March 2, 2011. The rebel army is preparing to fightLibyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces if necessary, an official in the rebel army said
A rebel army officer teaches civilians who have volunteered to join the rebel army to operate an anti-aircraft gun at a school in Benghazi March 2, 2011.The rebel army is preparing to fight Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces if necessary, an official in the rebel army said
Civilians who have volunteered
Civilians who have volunteered to join the rebel army shout anti-Gaddafi slogans at a school in Benghazi March 2, 2011. The rebel army is preparing tofight Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces if necessary, an official in the rebel army said