New Libyan offensive on rebels

by our Arab Affairs correspondent

WAVE AFTER wave of Nato bombers have begun daylight raids on Tripoli in a renewed effort to crack the Gaddafi government and break the deadlock in the Libyan civil war, while loyalist troops launch renewed attacks on the rebel-held city of Misrata in western Libya.

Lawyers for Muammar Gadhafi’s daughter have filed lawsuits in Paris and Brussels over the alleged assassination in late April of four of the Libyan leader’s relatives in Nato bombing raids over Tripoli.

And rebel leaders escaped unscathed when a car bomb exploded outside their headquarters in Benghazi.

Libyan government spokesperson Moussa Ibrahim said that the daylight strikes were particularly terrifying because families were separated during the day, with school children taking final exams at the end of the school year.

He reiterated the Libyan government’s readiness to honour a ceasefire and begin negotiations, which have been rejected by the opposition and Nato forces. Ibrahim said: “Instead of talking to us, they are bombing us. They are going mad.” He also stated that since they were unleashed on 19th March and up to 26th May, Nato air strikes on Libya had killed 718 civilians and wounded 4,067.

In a nine-minute audio message late on Tuesday, Gaddafi said that he was close to the bombing but would neither kneel nor surrender. “We have only one choice — to stay in our country to the end, dead or alive,” he said, adding that the Libyan people will march across the country to cleanse it from “armed gangs,” referring to the imperialist-backed rebels controlling eastern Libya.

The next day loyalist forces launched a new offensive against the rebel-held city of Misrata, following a two-week lull in the fighting. The rebels, who seized the western city when the revolt began in February, say they are now under artillery fire from all sides and that thousands of loyalist troops are now trying to enter the city.

On the ground the rebel militias can do little but hold on to what they’ve got. While their morale has been boosted by two more defections from the Gaddafi government to the rebel camp, this has been partially off-set by others going the other way.

Some rebels from the Misrata area and the western mountains have accepted the Libyan government’s amnesty and have handed in their weapons, while loyalist attempts to set up partisan units in the heart of the Benghazi are beginning to take off.

Last week a car bomb was detonated in the car park of the Tibesti hotel in Benghazi that is used by the rebel leaders and where diplomats and foreign journalists were hosted by the “National Transitional Council”.

Two cars were destroyed and a police officer is said to have been killed in the blast but no casualties have been officially reported. The rebel HQ was car bombed some weeks ago in a similar action widely, believed to have been carried out by an underground loyalist cells active in the rebel-held provincial capital.

In Benghazi the rebel leadership met the Russian Presidential envoy on African affairs, Mikhail Margelov, on Tuesday for talks on possible ways out of the conflict and ways of preventing a humanitarian catastrophe. But the rebels are adamant that Gaddafi must go and as long as they’ve got imperialist and Arab oil prince support they’re not going to accept anything less to end the fighting.