Libyan military forces stand guard amid increased bombings by the United States-led imperialist onslaught against this North African state. Since March 19 the NATO forces have killed scores of civilians and destroyed government property., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Libya Rebels Seek Cease-Fire as U.S. Vows to Withdraw Jets
April 01, 2011, 9:56 AM EDT
By Zainab Fattah and Tamara Walid
April 1 (Bloomberg) -- Libya’s opposition called for a cease-fire after the U.S. said it’s withdrawing aircraft used to attack Muammar Qaddafi’s forces following adverse weather that prevented strikes allowing Libyan loyalists to push back rebels.
Qaddafi’s fighters must retreat from cities and nearby areas for any cease-fire deal, said Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the rebel Interim National Council, in a news conference televised today from their stronghold of Benghazi. He said rebel demands for freedoms must also be met.
The rebels’ move comes one day after Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. jets, won’t be flying with NATO forces over Libya after April 2. Mullen said planes would be made available only if requested by NATO. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told Congress the U.S. will “significantly ramp down our commitment” to Libya except for electronic warfare, aerial refueling and surveillance.
Rebels have been in retreat for three days as Qaddafi’s troops regain the initiative after almost two weeks of allied air strikes against them. This week’s recapture of the oil port Ras Lanuf by Qaddafi forces underscored the military weakness of his opponents.
Intensive fighting continues around another oil port, Brega, which is under Libyan rebel control, Al Arabiya television reported. Al Jazeera television said rebels forced government troops to retreat several kilometers near the eastern town of Ajdabiya.
“Seems to me, we are not doing everything necessary in order to achieve our policy goals and including relieving what is happening to the anti-Qaddafi forces,” Senator John McCain said at the hearing in Congress yesterday with Mullen and Gates. “I hope we don’t learn a bitter lesson from it.”
Mullen said poor weather over the past three days in Libya meant pilots “can’t get on the targets; they can’t see the targets.”
Crude rose to a 30-month high in New York after the U.S. added more jobs than forecast, signaling increased demand in the world’s biggest oil-consuming country, and as fighting intensified in Libya. Crude oil for May delivery rose 27 cents, or 0.3 percent, to $106.99 a barrel at 9:30 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Futures reached $107.84, the highest intraday price since Sept. 26, 2008. Oil is up 26 percent from a year ago.
Jan Techau, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Brussels and a former analyst at the NATO Defense College, said the rebel withdrawal means the allies must expand assistance to opposition groups.
“I don’t know if this is a precursor for allied ground forces but we are clearly going to see stepped up aid,” Techau said in a telephone interview.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization said in a statement it has 205 alliance jets and 21 naval vessels involved in the Libya operation.
“A number of tank shells were fired at the port area of the city in the afternoon and the rebels inside responded to the attacks,” Reda Almountasser said in the telephone interview from the western city of Misrata whose residents rose up against Qaddafi and have defied efforts by his forces to regain control.
Rebel leader Abdel Jalil said that opposition forces would request arms deliveries if Qaddafi loyalists continue to attack.
“Our aim for a cease-fire is primarily to end Libyan bloodshed but the Qaddafi regime will have to leave,” he said. “We’re confident of our forces and resolve to unseat Qaddafi’s regime.”
U.S. political and military leaders said they’re unwilling to start providing arms and training for rebels fighting against Qaddafi. Mullen said there are “plenty of countries who have the ability, the arms, the skill set to be able to do this.” Gates said the U.S. doesn’t know enough about the insurgent groups beyond a “handful” of leaders.
“The rebels need more heavy weapons,” said Techau. “They need simple stuff -- not high-tech weaponry that requires extensive training and would be dangerous if it fell into terrorist hands.”
The conflict in Libya, which began as a wave of anti- government protests similar to those in Egypt and Tunisia, escalated into armed conflict as the country’s army split and some soldiers joined the rebels. Oil prices have risen more than 25 percent since fighting began in mid-February.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said the defection of Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa on March 30 is evidence of “the desperation and the fear right at the heart of the crumbling and rotten Qaddafi regime.” He said the former minister hasn’t been offered immunity. The Scottish prosecutor’s office said it wanted to interview Koussa about the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie that killed 270 people.
While dozens of Libyan diplomats have quit since the uprising against Qaddafi began, Koussa is one of the most senior officials to flee. Libya’s former deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Ibrahim Dabbashi, said more diplomats and senior-ranking Libyans are likely to defect from the Qaddafi regime “within days,” Sky News reported, adding that up to 10 top Libyan officials may abandon the regime.
Another senior Libyan official, Mohammed Ismail, visited London in recent days where he met U.K. officials, the Associated Press reported today citing two unidentified U.K. officials. Ismail wasn’t sent to London on a mission ordered by Qaddafi nor was he seeking to open up a channel for talks, the officials were cited as saying.
Gates said he saw several end-game scenarios involving Qaddafi.
“One is that a member of his own family kills him, or one of his inner circle kills him, or the military fractures, or the opposition, with the degradation of Qaddafi’s military capabilities rise up again,” Gates said.
NATO jets carried out more than 90 missions yesterday, Charles Bouchard, the Canadian air force general commanding the operation, said via videolink from Naples, Italy. A total of 20 of the 28 member states of the alliance are expected to contribute forces in the initial stages, NATO said. Germany has declined to take part.
Qaddafi said Western air strikes could lead to a war between Christians and Muslims that could spiral out of control, Sky News reported, citing a statement by the Libyan leader broadcast by state television.
--With assistance from Patrick Donahue and Alan Crawford in Berlin, Massoud Derhally in Beirut and Thomas Penny and Caroline Alexander in London. Editors: Leon Mangasarian, Ben Holland.
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