Thousands of Bahraini anti-government protesters chant slogans, March 6, as they circle outside Gudaibiya Palace in Manama, Bahrain (AP)
Gaddafi attacks Libya slides into civil war

TRIPOLI, March 6, (Agencies): Troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi launched counter-offensives against rebel-held towns on Sunday, increasing fears that Libya is heading for a protracted civil war rather than the swift revolutions seen in Tunisia and Egypt.
The Gaddafi government proclaimed sweeping overnight victories over what it called terrorist bands.
But after what residents said was a day of fierce fighting with artillery, rockets and mortar bombs, rebel forces announced they had fought off Gaddafi’s forces in the towns of Zawiyah and Misrata to the immediate west and to the east of Tripoli.
“We would like to put the people of this great nation at ease...because the regime is spreading rumours,” opposition rebel council spokesman Hafiz Ghoga told a Benghazi news conference.
“Both Zawya and Misrata are secured, liberated cities.”
Gaddafi’s troops, backed by tanks, artillery, warplanes and helicopters also attacked positions near the oil port of Ras Lanuf, 660 km (410 miles) east of the capital.
Misrata, with a population of 300,000, is the largest town controlled by rebels outside the rebel-held east of the country.

If rebel soldiers were able to continue their fitful advance westwards, Misrata could be a stepping stone to reaching the capital, Gaddafi’s principal stronghold.
Loyalists had poured into the streets of Tripoli at dawn on Sunday firing into the air and holding portraits of the leader who has headed the OPEC oil and gas producer for 41 years.
“These are celebrations because government forces have taken control of all areas to Benghazi and are in the process of taking control of Benghazi,” spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said, referring to Libya’s second city, situated in the far east.
But the celebrations appeared to be premature as Benghazi remained firmly under rebel control and insurgents at Zawiyah and Misrata said they had repulsed assaults and were now fighting to take back the town of Bin Jawad, west of Ras Lanuf.
Government troops pushed the insurgents out of Bin Jawad which they had captured on Saturday.
But the rebels regrouped around Ras Lanuf and moved back to the outskirts of Bin Jawad, a small, dusty town sandwiched between the coastal highway and the Mediterranean Sea, 160 km (100 miles) east of Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte.

One fighter returning wounded to Ras Lanuf from the government assault on Bin Jawad was asked what he had seen.
“Death,” he replied, too distraught to say any more.
Rebels surrounded by troops near the centre of Zawiyah, 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli, faced another attack after repelling two assaults by tanks and infantry the day before.
“This morning, there was a new attack, bigger than yesterday. There were one and a half hours of fighting ... Two people were killed from our side and many more injured,” spokesman Youssef Shagan said by telephone.
“We are still in full control of the square,” he added.
Elite brigades under Gaddafi’s son Khamis also launched an assault on Misrata, 200 km (125 miles) east of the capital.
“The brigades tried to reach the centre of the town but revolutionaries managed to repel them. They retreated to the airbase,” said a resident who declined to be named.
“The revolutionaries captured 20 soldiers and seized a tank. The town is now fully in the control of the youths,” he said.
At least 18 people, including a baby, were killed in the fighting in Misrata on Sunday, a doctor told Reuters by phone.
“We have 18 martyrs but the figure is not final. We also have many people wounded, I cannot even count them,” said the doctor, who works at Misrata main hospital, adding that the dead included rebels and civilians.

Rebels first took Bin Jawad on Saturday, but later withdrew. Army units then occupied local homes and set up sniper and rocket-propelled grenade positions for an ambush.
“It’s real fierce fighting, like Vietnam,” rebel fighter Ali Othman told Reuters. “Every kind of weapon is being used. We’ve retreated from an ambush and we are going to regroup.”
When the rebels returned, a fierce exchange of rockets and mortar bombs ensued just outside Bin Jawad with the army also using heavy artillery. Behind rebel lines, hundreds of fighters armed with machine guns and assault rifles waited to advance.
“The firing is sustained, there is the thud of shells landing, the whoosh of rockets, puffs of smoke and heavy machine gun fire in the distance,” a Reuters correspondent there said.
The rebels said they had shot down a helicopter on Sunday and Reuters was shown the wreckage of a warplane on Saturday near Ras Lanuf that rebels said they had brought down.
Doctors at Ras Lanuf hospital said two dead and 22 wounded had arrived from the fighting. A French journalist was shot in the leg, a doctor said, and four rebels were seriously wounded and unlikely to survive.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a newspaper on Sunday that the United Nations security council should launch fresh sanctions against Gaddafi.
“Selective sanctions are necessary against those who are responsible for crimes against the Libyan people,” he told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper. “The flow of money must be cut off.”
The International Energy Agency said the revolt had blocked about 60 percent of Libya’s 1.6 million bpd oil output. The drop, due largely to the flight of thousands of foreign oil workers, will batter the economy and have already jacked up crude prices abroad.

Diplomatic team
A British diplomatic team, which is reported to have included special forces soldiers, left Libya on Sunday after being captured by rebels in the eastern town of Benghazi.
Britain said the team left Libya after running into difficulties. It did not mention the special forces soldiers.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said the problems the team had encountered had been “satisfactorily resolved” and Britain would send another delegation to meet rebel leaders soon.
“This diplomatic effort is part of the UK’s wider work on Libya, including our ongoing humanitarian support,” he said.
A rebel spokesman in Benghazi confirmed that the team, including the crack troops, had left Libya.
Earlier the Sunday Times had said the eight armed but plain- clothed soldiers belonged to the Special Air Service (SAS) whose regiment has seen service in Iraq and Afghanistan and has a special place in British military folklore.

A Libyan human rights activist with links to the rebels told Reuters the team was seized because they had aroused suspicion.
“They (the rebel army) did capture some British special forces. They could not ascertain if they were friends or foes,” said the source in Benghazi. We do not know why they (British government) did not get in touch first or (detail) the purpose of their mission”.
The Sunday Times said the team were intercepted as they escorted a junior diplomat through rebel-held territory. He was preparing the way for a visit by a senior colleague to try to establish diplomatic contact with the rebels, it said.
Rebel sources expressed puzzlement about the mission.
“If this is an official delegation, why come with helicopters? Why not say ‘we are coming, permission to land at the airport?’ There are rules for these things,” one said.
Britain has taken a strong stance against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and wants to work with rebels to help oust him.

British Defence Secretary Liam Fox said earlier that a diplomatic team had gone to Benghazi but he declined to comment on whether special forces had been captured.
“It is a very difficult situation. There are a number of different opposition groups to Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. They do seem relatively disparate,” Fox said.
“We want to clearly understand what the dynamic is there because we want to be able to work with them to ensure the demise of the Gaddafi regime, to see a transition to greater stability in Libya and ultimately to more representative government,” he said.
Fox ruled out the use of British military ground forces in Libya but said a no-fly zone remained a possibility. NATO defence ministers meeting in Brussels on March 10-11 would examine no-fly zone options.

Meanwhile, the European Union sent experts into Libya Sunday to get “real time” information on humanitarian and evacuation efforts, as diplomatic activity intensifies in Brussels and at the United Nations.
The EU’s High Representative for foreign and security affairs, Catherine Ashton “has today sent a technical fact-finding mission to Libya — the first international mission of its kind to the country since the recent violence,” said a statement.
Ashton’s team is led by Agostino Miozzo, who heads up the newly-formed EU External Action Service’s crisis response division, and aims “to assess humanitarian and evacuation efforts on the ground in Libya to make an appraisal of what may be needed in terms of additional support.”
Ashton said she wanted “first-hand, real-time information” to feed into proposals for a gathering of EU foreign ministers on Thursday and the bloc’s emergency summit of leaders tackling events in neighbouring Arab lands on Friday.
Several big EU states are pushing for the imposition through the UN of a no-fly zone over Libya, as veteran leader Moamer Kadhafi pounds rebel strongholds in a bid to hold onto power.

However, with NATO defence ministers also assembling in Brussels this week alongside EU foreign ministers and heads of state or government, France’s new foreign minister warned Sunday that international military action would have “absolutely negative” effects.
“France, as well as many of its partners, is not in favour of any Western military intervention in Libya, which would have absolutely negative effects,” Alain Juppe told a news conference in Cairo.
The UN Security Council has already ordered a travel ban and assets freeze against Gaddafi and his entourage, as well as an investigation into whether crimes against humanity have been committed in a crackdown on an anti-regime uprising.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called Sunday for new sanctions against Gaddafi’s regime.
“Financial flows (towards Libya) must be blocked,” Westerwelle told the Welt am Sonntag in an interview published Sunday.
According to a European diplomat, the EU mission — which left Rome on an Italian government airccraft — is not in Libya to negotiate with the authorities.
Until now, official EU-level staff have not been able to get further than Libya’s western border with Tunisia.

the United States may have missed an opportunity to oust Moamer Gaddafi by “dragging its feet” on aiding rebels in the first weeks of Libya’s uprising, a former minister said Sunday.
“We asked for help when he was on the ropes,” Libya’s former immigration minister Ali Errishi, who resigned shortly after the uprising began nearly three weeks ago, told CNN talk show “State of the Union.”
“I said, you give us little help now. It was just a little nudge,” when what was needed was greater US military support at the height of the chaos as Kadhafi loyalists were on the back foot when several key government and military figures abandoned the regime, Errishi said.
“They were dragging their feet, I don’t know why,” said the former minister. “We asked — we don’t want a no-fly zone actually — we just want air cover.”
He also stressed he had “no doubt” that Kadhafi would refuse to negotiate terms for his own departure after more than 41 years in power in the North African nation.
“This is a man who has shown that there’s only one choice for Libyan people: either I rule you or I kill you.”

US President Barack Obama has insisted that all options remained on the table with respect to Libya, including military action.
Calls grew louder Sunday for establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya, where Kadhafi’s military forces have unleashed deadly airstrikes on rebel forces and civilians as the regime struggles to maintain control.
Stephen Hadley, national security advisor for Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush, said it was time for the administration to look at more direct diplomatic or military options — including arming the rebels.
“Obviously, if there is a way to get weapons into the hands of the rebels, if we can get anti-aircraft systems so that they can enforce a no-fly zone over their own territory, that would be helpful,” Hadley told CNN on the same show.
Former New Mexico governor and one-time US envoy to the United Nations Bill Richardson also said Sunday it was time to “covertly arm the rebels” and enforce a no-fly zone over Libya.

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd on Sunday warned “those pulling the trigger” in Libya, in addition to the regime’s leaders, that they could face international justice.
“Those in Libya who follow the orders of (Moamer) Kadhafi to pull the triggers against their own people are also liable for prosecution by the international criminal courts,” Rudd told reporters in Jerusalem.
Last week International Criminal Court prosecutors launched a probe into Kadhafi, his sons and key aides for alleged crimes against humanity arising from a bloody crackdown on Libya’s popular revolt.
But Australia’s top diplomat said it would not just be Libya’s leaders who could be held responsible.
“It’s not just the regime issuing the orders, it is those pulling the trigger in response to directions by the regime,” he said.
Rudd also joined mounting calls for the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya, where Kadhafi’s military forces have unleashed deadly air strikes on rebel forces and civilians as the regime struggles to maintain control.
“The time for a no-fly zone has come. The international community must rise to this challenge, the UN Security Council must rise to this challenge and NATO must rise to this challenge,” he said.
Rudd, who was on a two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, spoke after a series of meetings with Israeli leaders.

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