9 Mar 2011

Gaddafi ramps up military action against rebels

Rebel fighters claim anti-Gaddafi forces have recaptured the main square in Zawiyah in the west of Libya as International Editor Lindsey Hilsum reports on latest clashes in the east.

The rebel-held city of Zawiyah in the west of Libya is at the centre of fresh efforts by pro-Gaddafi forces to crush an uprising with new reports on Wednesday evennig that rebels had “retaken” the main square. An eyewitness earlier said: “We can see the tanks, the tanks are everywhere.” Zawiyah is the only town left in the west of and therefore a priority for Gaddafi.

Another witness, Ibrahim, said: “There are many dead people and they can’t even bury them. Zawiyah is deserted. There’s nobody on the streets. No animals, not even birds in the sky.”

“Zawiyah as you knew it no longer exists. They have been attacking the town from 10 in the morning until 11.30 in the evening.”

Snipers across the city are reportedly shooting at anyone who are leaving their homes or buildings, whilst yet more air strikes by Gaddafi forces are said to have destroyed large areas of the city. An area of the mosque in the main square has been turned into a make shift hospital theatre.

There are many dead people and they can’t even bury them. Zawiyah is deserted. There’s nobody on the streets. No animals, not even birds in the sky. Ibrahim, eyewitness

There are reports of fresh air bombardments in Zawiyah on Wednesday evening. It follows new clashes near the oil port of Ras Lanuf, to the east of Tripoli. Rebels and Gaddafi forces traded artillery shells while warplanes flew overhead. There were also reports of a yellow fireball erupting near the location of a small oil terminal.

LIVE BLOG: Libya's battle for Zawiyah.
LIVE BLOG: Libya latest from #c4news as rebels fight Gaddafi troops
Ras Lanuf in the east is pounded from the air by warplanes - reports of "yellow fireball" eruption at oil terminal - witnesses in western Zawiyah report new heavy bombardments - Channel 4 News International Editor Lindsey Hilsum reports amputations at hospital in Bin Jawad - Gaddafi minister flies to Egypt for talks.

Meanwhile, the strength of force now being used by Government troops is being seen in Bin Jawad as pro-Gaddafi forces ramp up the ferocity of their action against rebels. Reports claim there have been numerous airstrikes at Bin Jawad, coupled with pictures of huge plumes of smoke emerging.

Plea for aid

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for aid and medical assistance to be allowed into west Libya in the same way it is being done in the East.

In a statement HRW said: “Civilians in Zawiya and Misrata are at grave risk. Both sides should allow people to leave the area, and let desperately needed medical supplies in. Both the Libyan government and opposition forces need to allow unhindered access for aid organizations to assist civilians.”

The group also gave a worrying reason for the reduced numbers seen trying to get across the border and away from fighting. “We are deeply concerned that pro-government forces may be denying people their right to flee the fighting and leave the country.”

With little access to the west numbers of civilian deaths can not be confirmed but the HRW have received reports from inside Libya of death tolls in multiple locations ranging from ten up to over a hundred fatalities.

Speaking on Channel 4 News, Dr Ahmed Sewehli of Libyan Doctors Relief, said surgeons in the Libyan city of Misrata had told him that they were having to carry out operations in corridors and they had run out of the ventilators needed to keep injured people alive. Dr Sewehli called on the international community to work to get humanitarian aid into the country.

In response, the International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said the government was not just asking the Libyan authorities, but demanding unfettered access for humanitarian agencies.

No-fly zone?

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said America will not intervene in Libya unless there is the go-ahead from the United Nations. Earlier David Cameron said that following a phone call with Barack Obama it was clear that the “widest possible backing” would be needed for military action.

In Benghazi, the centre of power for the opposition, demonstrations have been held in favour of a no-fly zone as the tone of the rebellion changed from one of optimism to a conscious effort to keep momentum against the growing use of force from Gaddafi soldiers.

But earlier Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell told reporters: “We are preparing, as we’ve made clear for days and days now, a range of military options for the president, including a no-fly zone and each of those options will also spell out the potential consequences of each course of action.”

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates is expected to discuss Libya with Nato counterparts on Thursday but he has already voiced concerns about further intervention in Middle East affairs.