Sunday, April 24, 2011

Fighting grips besieged Libyan city after Gaddafi regime’s ‘ultimatum’

Tripoli, Saturday

Intense fighting gripped Misrata today, overwhelming its hospital with casualties after Muammar Gaddafi’s regime gave its army an “ultimatum” to take the besieged Libyan city.
The United States, meanwhile, said it carried out the first drone strike in the more than month-old conflict.

At least 10 people were killed and 50 wounded in the Misrata street battles that came after Nato air raids struck near a compound in the capital Tripoli where Gaddafi resides.

“Since eight o’clock this morning, we have received 10 dead and 50 wounded, which is usually the number for a full day,” said Doctor Khalid Abu Salra at the main Hikma hospital in the western port city.

We’re overwhelmed

“We’re overwhelmed, overwhelmed. We lack everything: personnel, equipment and medicines,” he said.

Ambulances pulled up outside the hospital every three or four minutes, also bringing in wounded soldiers loyal to Gaddafi, as paramedics frantically wiped blood off stretchers.

Misrata has been the scene of deadly urban guerrilla fighting between pro-Gaddafi forces and outgunned rebels for more than six weeks.

Saturday’s upsurge in the fight for the port city came after Gaddafi’s government said it had given its army an “ultimatum” to stop the rebellion in the city, 200 kilometres east of the capital.

Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said: “There was an ultimatum to the Libyan army: if they cannot solve the problem in Misrata, then the people from (the neighbouring towns of) Zliten, Tarhuna, Bani Walid and Tawargha will move in and they will talk to the rebels.

“If they don’t surrender, then they will engage them in a fight,” he told journalists.

Hamed al-Hasi, a colonel coordinating rebel fighters at the western gate of the crossroads town of Ajdabiya in the east, said the decision meant the insurgents were beginning to win the war.

“This is the first nail in the coffin of Gaddafi. This means the Libyan army is no longer capable,” he told AFP.

The United States carried out its first Predator drone strike in Libya in the early afternoon on Saturday, the Pentagon said, declining to give details on the targets or location.

Earlier, Nato strikes hit a patch of bare ground opposite Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya residence in central Tripoli, and what looked like a bunker.

Authorities who took foreign correspondents there said they were “a parking lot” and “sewers.” Anti-aircraft fire rang out as ambulance sirens wailed.

Allibya television said the capital was “now the target of raids by the barbaric crusader colonialist aggressor,” a term the Gaddafi regime uses for Western forces.

The official Jana news agency reported two people died in Nato raids late Friday on the Zintan region southwest of Tripoli where stepped up fighting has taken place with rebels who hold several towns.

Nato warplanes continued to overfly Tripoli on Saturday.

Kaim accused Washington of “new crimes against humanity” after US President Barack Obama authorised deployment of missile-carrying drone warplanes over Libya for what his administration called “humanitarian” reasons.

He also hit out at a senior US senator’s visit to Benghazi, the rebel capital in the east, saying the Transitional National Council did not represent Libyans and had “no authority on the ground.”

John McCain, a Republican senator who lost the presidential race to Obama in 2008, earlier held talks with TNC leaders, urging the international community to arm and recognise the rebel body.

Daily Nation


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