Libyans celebrate repulsion of Gaddafi forces

March 2, 2011 - 0:0

TRIPOLI – Residents of the rebel-held city closest to Libya’s capital passed out sweets and cold drinks to fighters Tuesday and celebrated with a victory march after they managed to repel an overnight attack by forces loyal to longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Pro-Gaddafi forces also were repelled as they tried to retake two other opposition-held cities: Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city 125 miles (200 kilometers) east of Tripoli, and Zintan, 75 miles (120 kilometers) south of the Libyan capital, AP reported.
The rebels have been fighting to consolidate their gains as the international community weighs new moves to isolate the longtime Libyan leader, including the possibility of creating a no-fly zone over Libya.
Witnesses in Zawiya said pro-Gaddafi forces battled rebels for six hours overnight but could not retake control of the city 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Tripoli. They said the last of several assaults by the Gadhafi loyalists came at around 3 a.m. local time.
“Allahu Akbar (God is Great) for our victory,” residents of Zawiya chanted as they paraded through the city’s main square. Some carried on their shoulders an air force colonel they said had just defected to the rebels’ side.
“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 Zawiya rebels, who include mutinous army forces, are armed with tanks, machine guns and anti-aircraft guns. They fought back pro-Gadhafi troops, armed with the same weapons, who attacked from six directions. There was no word on casualties.
“We will not give up Zawiya at any price,” said one witness. “We know it is significant strategically. They will fight to get it, but we will not give up. We managed to defeat them because our spirits are high and their spirits are zero.”
Libya could descend into civil war if Muammar Gaddafi refuses to quit, the United States said on Tuesday, its demand for his departure carrying fresh weight after news of Western military preparations.
But the veteran Libyan leader remained defiant, Reuters reported.
His most prominent son, Saif al-Islam, warned the West against launching any military action to topple his father, and said the veteran ruler would not go into exile or step down.
“Using force against Libya is not acceptable, there’s no reason, but if they want… we are ready, we are not afraid,” he told Sky television, adding, “We live here, we die here.”
In Moscow, a Kremlin source suggested Gaddafi should step down, calling him a “living political corpse who has no place in the modern civilized world,” the Interfax news agency reported.
In prepared testimony to lawmakers in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Libya could become a democracy or face a drawn-out civil war.
“In the years ahead, Libya could become a peaceful democracy or it could face protracted civil war,” she said.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told U.S. television networks Washington would keep pressure on Gaddafi until he steps down, while working to stabilize oil prices and avert a possible humanitarian crisis.
Gaddafi’s influence over the desert nation has drastically shrunk following the deadly protests. The opposition movement is in control of most of the eastern region, and several cities elsewhere have also slipped out of Gaddafi’s hands.
Numerous tribal leaders, officials, military officers, and army units have defected, weakening the leader who has ruled Libya for more than 41 years.
Meanwhile, international pressure is continuing to mount on Gaddafi, with David Cameron, the British prime minister, saying his government will work to prepare a “no-fly” zone to protect the Libyan people.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, has called on nations to fully implement Saturday’s UN Security Council resolution on Libya. The measures agreed at the world body included a freeze on Gaddafi’s assets, travel bans on him and his associates, and referring his regime’s brutal crackdown to the International Criminal Court.
Concerns are also growing over the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Libya.
A resident of Zawiya told Al Jazeera that he feared a food shortage as Gaddafi loyalists outside the city were hindering food supplies from entering the city.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR says more than 110,000 people, mainly foreign migrants, have fled Libya to neighboring countries and thousands more are arriving at the borders.
The Red Cross and the UN have complained of limited access to Tripoli and areas in the west. France said humanitarian aid must be the priority in Libya rather than military action to oust Gaddafi.
The French government has sent two airplanes with medical equipment and staff to the Libyan city of Benghazi, now in the hands of the opposition, and more planes are to follow, government spokesman Francois Baroin said.