Fresh blasts rocked Tripoli yesterday after Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi vowed never to give in to mounting calls to go into exile despite a new offensive by rebels seeking to oust him.
At least 13 explosions were heard before and just after 1am.
State television reported that “the colonialist crusader aggressor” had raided civilian and military sites in the Ain Zara district and in Tajoura in the eastern suburbs.
The blasts came just hours after Qaddafi had insisted in a defiant speech that he would never quit his homeland.
“They are asking me to leave. That’s a laugh. I will never leave the land of my ancestors or the people who have sacrificed themselves for me,” he said in a loudspeaker address to supporters in Zawiyah, west of the capital.
“I’m ready to sacrifice myself for my people, and I will never quit this land sprinkled with the blood of my ancestors who fought Italian and British colonialists,” he said.
“These rats have taken our people hostage in Benghazi, Misrata and the western mountains, using them as human shields,” Qaddafi said of the rebels’ eastern stronghold and their two enclaves in the mainly government-held west. “Five million armed Libyans will march on them and liberate the occupied towns as soon as the order is given.”
Libya’s rebels on Saturday suffered their bloodiest day yet in the offensive to wrest control of Brega from Qaddafi’s troops, as medics said the death toll had risen to at least 12.
Nine people were killed on Saturday and 79 wounded as loyalist landmines began to vie with Grad rockets to ramp up the casualties, according to a list from the hospital in nearby Ajdabiya.
Rebels said their steady advance on the key refinery town was slowed by the discovery of defensive trenches that had been filled with flammable chemicals by the retreating loyalist forces.
After a small rebel reconnaissance unit punched through into Brega late on Friday before falling back, a rebel commander said troops were now moving “slowly but surely” toward it from east, north and south.
It was not clear what kind of chemicals were being used, but Brega is home to a large petrochemical facility that produces a range of oil by-products.
At the hospital in Ajdabiya, Ahmed Dinari said many of the casualties were caused by landmines rather than heavy artillery.
“We have had five more injuries this morning, all of them from mine explosions,” the doctor said.
Lying prone in “Bed 2,” 19-year-old Ali Saleh said he had been in the central rebel column when his armored personnel carrier hit a mine.
“We were very close to Brega at around 3am. Then we got instructions from NATO to fall back and as we were falling back the vehicle hit a mine, destroying the chain track,” he said.
The alliance said that on Saturday it hit one tank, five armed vehicles, a multiple rocket launcher and another rocket launcher in and around Brega.
In raids east of Tripoli, NATO-led aircraft took out three radars, a surface-to-air missile launcher and a military storage facility, the alliance added.
Southwest of the capital, rebel fighters exchanged rocket and machine-gun fire with Qaddafi’s forces early yesterday both in the Nafusa Mountains and in the plains below around Bir Ayad, a key junction on the road to Tripoli, correspondents reported.
The rebels’ senior commander for the region, Mokhtar Farnana, said they were consolidating their grip on the territory they already held for fear of loyalist counterattack.
“The most important thing is to keep hold of the territory we have captured and to make it safe before making further attacks,” he said.
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