by our Arab Affairs correspondent

BRITISH, American and French missiles and warplanes are continuing to hit Libyan military positions in an imperialist offensive in the name of a “no fly zone,” pushed through the United Nations Security Council last week. But the air and sea bombardment is clearly aimed at saving the imperialist-backed rebels who were on the brink of total defeat.

BRITISH and French warplanes are continuing to hit Libyan positions following the failed rebel offensive to seize Sirte, Muammar Gaddafi’s home town. The Libyan leader has called on Nato to cease its air cover for rebel forces as loyalist troops chase the rebels back along the coastal road to Benghazi.

But the imperialists have moved to give more military assistance to the rebels at a conference in London amid continuing divisions within Nato over the deepening conflict.

Foreign ministers from the imperialist camp attended a London conference on Tuesday called by British Premier David Cameron to achieve an imperialist consensus on the Nato drive to oust the Gaddafi government, now that it’s increasingly clear that the rebels cannot do it on their own. Though UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was in attendance, this was almost exclusively a Nato and European Union affair.

On the eve of the conference, a joint statement from French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron insisted that the current Libyan government had lost all legitimacy. It called on Colonel Gaddafi’s supporters to abandon him and on his opponents to take the initiative to organise a transition process.

Russia, an outspoken critic of the Nato escalation, was not invited to the conference in London. China, India and Pakistan were also notably absent and only seven Arab states took part in the meeting. While rebel representatives hovered on the fringe of the meeting no-one from the Libyan government was asked to attend.

But the Libyan leader seized the opportunity to send an open letter to the Nato powers calling on them to “stop your brutal unjust aggression against Libya. Leave Libya for the Libyan people and stop the barbaric offensive”.

There’s no sign of that happening at the moment. British and French imperialism are pushing for Nato arms shipments to the Libyan rebels, claiming that this would not be an infringement of the existing UN arms embargo but the Americans are lukewarm.

no discussion

Hillary Clinton, the American foreign minister, told the London media after the conference that Washington had “not made any decision about arming the rebels or providing any arms transfers, so there has not been any need to discuss that at this point”.

But US imperialism is increasing its direct hold over the rebels, who largely consist of pro-imperialist elements, Islamic fundamentalists and supporters of the former monarchy.

Last weekend a long-term CIA collaborator was chosen to head rebel military operations. Khalifa Hifter is a former colonel in the Libyan army who defected to the United States in 1996. He has lived there ever since promoting anti-Gaddafi factions with little success until now and only returned to join the rebel ranks two weeks ago.

The Americans may want Gaddafi out but there’s little enthusiasm in the Obama administration for another Iraq-style invasion. Continuing talk about “stale-mate” in Washington and open discussion about the influence of Al Qaeda and other Islamic fundamentalists within the rebel ranks seems to imply that the US end-game is partition — the break-up of Libya with the rebels running a puppet regime in Cyrenaica and leaving the provinces of Tripolitania and Fezzan to Gaddafi or whoever might take his place.

This may be why Turkey has stepped forward to offer to mediate between loyalist and rebel forces to end the fighting.

The Turks are running the airport in the rebel capital, Benghazi, to facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid but they’ve been, like the Germans, openly opposed to the Nato air offensive.

This, they believe, gives them the credibility to broker a ceasefire now. Turkish officials are reported to have already held separate talks with Libyan government officials and representatives of the rebel “transitional council”.