Ajdabiyah, Libya: Muammar Gaddafi’s troops seized the strategic Libyan oil town of Brega on Sunday forcing rebels to retreat under a heavy bombardment while world powers considered imposing a no-fly zone.
Losing Brega and its refinery further limits rebel access to fuel after the insurgents were pushed out of Ras Lanuf on Sunday, another major oil terminal some 100 km to the west along the coast road where all of Libya’s important towns are located.
“The rebels have left Brega. It is evacuated,” said 33-year-old anaesthesiologist Osama Jazwi. At about 1030 am the bombardment started,“ Jazwi told Reuters by telephone.
“Brega has been cleansed of armed gangs,” a Libyan government army source told state television.
Brega is 220 km (137 miles) south of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi with the town of Ajdabiyah the only sizeable town standing in the way. From Ajdabiyah there are roads to either Benghazi or Tobruk, close to the border with Egypt.
Libya’s flat desert terrain means the government’s air supremacy and big advantage in tanks outweighs the rebels’ enthusiasm and light weaponry. Only towns and cities provide some cover for the insurgents and partially even the odds.
“The Libyan people need help. We’re in danger. The east is in danger,” said Abdel Hadi Omar, a civilian rebel volunteer. “The Libyan people can’t cope with Gaddafi’s weapons. We have people but we don’t have means.”
The speed of the government advance may overtake drawn-out diplomatic wrangling on whether or how to impose a no-fly zone.
The United States said a call by the Arab League for a UN no-fly zone over Libya was an “important step”, but while Washington said it was preparing for “all contingencies”, it has remained cautious over endorsing direct military intervention.
Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa said the League had “officially asked the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone against any military action against the Libyan people”.
That would appear to satisfy one of the factors that NATO has said is needed for it to take on the task of policing Libyan air space, that of strong Arab support. But the other, a UN mandate, is still not in sight.
The United States does not want to appear to be leading the drive to oust Gaddafi and made no proposal for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. Diplomats in New York said a Security Council meeting at the weekend was unlikely.
Even if the Security Council does come together to discuss a Libyan no-fly zone, it is far from clear whether it would pass a resolution as veto holders Russia and China have both publicly opposed the idea.
Meanwhile fresh from crushing the revolt in Zawiyah, west of the capital Tripoli, elite government troops and tanks turned to Misrata, Libya’s third biggest city and the only pocket of rebel resistance outside the east.
But a mutiny among government troops slowed the advance of a crack Libyan brigade commanded by Gaddafi’s son Khamis advancing on Misrata, with 32 soldiers joining the rebels holding the city, a rebel there said. He said one defector was a general.
Rebel spokesman Gamal said the brigade, stalled about 10-15 km south of the city as fighting broke out in the ranks, with dozens of troops balking at the idea of killing civilians in the impending attack.
The events could not be confirmed independently. Journalists have been prevented from reaching the city by the authorities.
Mussa Ibrahim, a government spokesman in Tripoli, could neither confirm nor deny a military operation was under way in Misrata.
“There is a hard core of al Qaeda fighters there,” he said. “It looks like a Zawiyah scenario. Some people will give up, some will disappear ... Tribal leaders are talking to them. Those who stay behind, we will deal with them accordingly.”
It took a week of repeated assaults by government troops, backed by tanks and air power, to crush the uprising in Zawiyah, a much smaller town 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli.
The death toll in Zawiyah is unknown but much of the town was destroyed, with buildings around the main square showing gaping holes blown by tank rounds and rockets. Gaddafi’s forces bulldozed a cemetery where rebel fighters had been buried.
“We are bracing for a massacre,” said Mohammad Ahmed, a rebel fighter. “We know it will happen and Misrata will be like Zawiyah, but we believe in God. We do not have the capabilities to fight Gaddafi and his forces. They have tanks and heavy weapons and we have our belief and trust in God.”