Wed, Aug 24, 2011 - Page 1 News List

NATO not ready to end Libyan operations yet

UNCERTAINTY:The situation in Tripoli was dangerously fluid, with one of Qaddafi’s ‘captured’ sons showing up to prove that he was a free man

Agencies, BRUSSELS, TRIPOLI and BENGHAZI, Libya

NATO yesterday said the situation in the Libyan capital of Tripoli remains very dangerous and the alliance will continue its operations over the country, bombing forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi if they keep fighting.

However, alliance spokesman Colonel Roland Lavoie told reporters at a news conference in Naples, Italy, that pro-Qaddafi forces are severely degraded and losing strength through desertions and defections.

“The end is near,” chief NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu told a Brussels press conference. “For the Qadafi regime, this is the final chapter — they’re fighting a losing battle.”

Earlier, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe had said he hoped NATO’s air operation over Libya would end “as soon as possible” — once rebel fighters topple Qaddafi and his forces for good.

Juppe said France and Britain were responsible for about 75 to 80 percent of NATO air operations over Libya in recent months.

However, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, speaking on a visit to the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi, said air operations would continue until security in the country was fully restored.

He also urged other countries to quickly unfreeze Libyan state funds for rebel forces.

Rebel forces launched a massive offensive on Qadaffi’s sprawling Bab al-Azizya compound in Tripoli yesterday. The sound of the fighting was the most intense heard in the city since rebels fighters surged into the capital three days ago, while thick smoke billowed out of the complex.

The rebels also pushed through the eastern front and were advancing on the oil hub town of Ras Lanuf on the road to Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, rebel spokesman Mohammed Zawiwa said.

Meanwhile, grinning, waving in triumph and taunting his father’s enemies, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi surfaced in Tripoli overnight to prove he was a free man, not a captive as the rebels had claimed.

His stage-managed appearance for foreign media holed up in the Rixos Hotel suggested the battle for the city was far from over — and that Muammar Qaddafi may yet have surprises in store.

Wearing an olive-green T-shirt, Saif took journalists from the hotel to the Bab al-Aziziya compound to pour scorn on the weekend push into Tripoli that brought much of the city under rebel control.

“We broke the back of the rebels. It was a trap. We gave them a hard time, so we are winning,” he said, clasping hands with supporters and flashing victory signs.

“Take up arms today. God willing, we will attack the rats today,” Saif told them, assuring journalists that his father, who has been in hiding for weeks, was alive and well in Tripoli.

A NATO official said Bab al-Aziziya, where Saif was born, was “definitely not a [NATO] hit” on Monday night. However, NATO planes flew low over the compound yesterday.

The emergence of a man often viewed as Qaddafi’s choice to succeed him cast doubts on the credibility of the rebels who had announced his capture, along with two of his brothers — one of whom, Mohammed, has escaped, according to al-Jazeera TV.

Rebels said they were mystified by Saif’s reappearance and investigating how he escaped.

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