Blasts rock Tripoli, fighting rages across western Libya

TRIPOLI — Strong explosions rocked Tripoli Friday as fighting between rebels and Moamer Kadhafi’s forces raged on multiple fronts in western Libya and the Red Cross warned the humanitarian situation is worsening.

By (AFP)

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Published: Sat 20 Aug 2011, 11:59 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 8:28 PM

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said meanwhile it is drawing up plans for the evacuation of thousands of migrants stranded in Tripoli because exit points have been cut off following a spate of rebel successes.

A slew of explosions were heard around 1:00 am (2300 GMT) in the heart of the seaside capital where Gaddafi’s residential complex is located, as well as in several areas in the west of the city.

NATO air strikes destroyed one of the homes in Tripoli of Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, an AFP journalist said.

The western alliance in its latest operational update said its warplanes had on Thursday destroyed four military facilities and a surface-to-air missile in the vicinity of Tripoli.

With the rebels pushing closer to Tripoli, vowing to take it before the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan ends late August, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini urged the population of the capital to rise up against Gaddafi.

“We hope the people of Tripoli, who unfortunately are already fleeing, understand the regime has harmed its own people and will therefore join a process of political change to cut off room for manoeuvre for Gaddafi’s regime,” Frattini said in Rome.

The rebels meanwhile said they seized control of Zliten from Gaddafi forces, only hours after reporting they were in the centre of the town, 150 kilometres (93 miles) east of Tripoli.

“Zliten is now under the control of our fighters, but the fighting is not finished,” the Information Centre For Misrata Military Council said.

The offensive was launched around 07:30 am (0530 GMT) and “at 1:00 pm our information indicates that the rebel troops entered the city centre,” the Information Centre For Misrata Military Council said.

“Gaddafi forces have used tanks to try unsuccessfully to repel the rebels. There are dead and injured rebels,” it added.

“Between 40 and 50 Gaddafi forces were killed” in the fighting, while some 12 African mercenaries were captured, the statement said, adding that 40 insurgents were wounded, 10 of them seriously.

Rebels have been seeking to sever Tripoli’s supply lines from Tunisia to the west and to Kadhafi’s hometown of Sirte in the east in a move they hope will cut off the capital, prompt defections and spark an uprising inside Tripoli.

Fighting was also raging in the western town of Zawiyah, a key source of fuel supplies to the capital, and the last major barrier before the rebels can think about advancing on Tripoli.

The opposition forces said Thursday they had seized the refinery in the town but Libyan Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmudi hotly disputed the claim, saying the refinery was “without doubt” still in loyalists’ hands.

An AFP correspondent in Zawiyah, 40 kilometres west of Tripoli, said hundreds of rebels on Friday seized the town’s central square, a stronghold of Gaddafi’s forces. He said the refinery was in rebel hands.

Gaddafi snipers were staked out on rooftops as the battles raged, with buildings and streets in the town centre showing signs of massive damage from the warfare.

Zawiyah’s refinery, the only one in western Libya, is vital to the Gaddafi regime, as it supplies fuel to Tripoli.

Further west, another rebel commander, Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani, said that rebels were pushing toward the Tunisian border — an apparent bid to further strangle what limited supply lines remain for Kadhafi’s regime.

IOM spokeswoman Jemini Pandya told AFP in Geneva that no date had yet been set for the start of evacuations from Tripoli but that thousands of migrants were waiting to leave.

“We are still working on putting it into a plan, and will not begin until everything is in place,” Pandya said.

“There are already thousands of Egyptians who are ready for evacuation now, and what we are hearing is that every day there are more and more requests,” Pandya said.

“They can’t get out by road because the nearest exit point would be Tunisia, and the fighting on the western front has closed off that option,” she said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said the intensified fighting has seen a “rapid deterioration in the humanitarian situation” in several Libyan towns.

“The ICRC is deeply concerned about the increasing number of casualties and about allegations of health-care facilities being misused by weapon bearers,” the organisation said in a statement.

“We are hearing about hospitals being attacked or used for military purposes,” it said.

The statement listed Brega as well as the western towns of Zawiyah, Garyan, and Sabratha, near the rebel-held city of Misrata, where it said conditions were worsening for civilians.



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