Thu, May 05, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Libyan forces pound rebel town

GROUND WAR:The rebels are seeking more aid from the West, while the UN says the refugee flow is turning into a humanitarian crisis

Reuters, TRIPOLI

Rebels shout slogans against Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi at the site of a car bomb explosion near their headquarters in Benghazi on Tuesday.

Photo: AFP

Libya’s army fired volleys of rockets at the rebel-held town of Zintan in the Western Mountains and the UN said the civil war had forced thousands to flee on foot and by boat.

Rebels said more than 40 Grad rockets hit Zintan late on Tuesday, and aid deliveries to the western port of Misrata were hindered by artillery fire and mines near the harbor entrance. The city has become one of the bloodiest battlefields in the two-month war.

Rebel spokesmen said fighting had flared again in Misrata’s eastern suburbs, but that intense air strikes by NATO planes appeared to have won the port, the city’s lifeline, a respite in shelling by Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s forces.

In Tripoli, witnesses heard two loud explosions late on Tuesday, but there was no explanation.

Qaddafi has not been seen in public since a NATO missile attack on Saturday on a house in Tripoli, which killed his youngest son and three grandchildren.

Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said Qaddafi was alive and in good health and had “not at all” been hurt in the NATO strike, adding: “He met today a number of tribal leaders.”

Asked when Qaddafi would appear amid questions over whether he is still alive, Kaim said: “This is up to him, his security people ... He has been targeted four times.”

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, in his strongest public comments yet on the power struggle in Libya, said: “Qaddafi should step down right away and leave the administration to Libyan people.”

“Libya is not the property of a single person or family,” Erdogan told a news conference in Istanbul, appealing to Qaddafi to realise how his people were suffering.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said an exodus from the Western Mountains region had resumed, with Libyan families fleeing into southern Tunisia.

“This past weekend, more than 8,000 people, most of them ethnic Berbers, arrived in Dehiba in southern Tunisia. Most are women and children,” UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news briefing in Geneva.

The Dehiba crossing point has changed hands several times in the last week, with fighting spilling over onto Tunisian soil.

A violent sandstorm that battered the area had made the situation more difficult.

“The storm has destroyed hundreds of tents and two huge portable warehouses,” Edwards said.

“Most of the Libyan refugees are leaving Libya in tribal groups. Many are choosing to stay in the camps for a few days before moving on to stay with Tunisian families,” Edwards said.

In the largely rebel-held east the most pressing need is for cash to try to restore infrastructure and establish a viable administration.

Rebels said they expected billions of dollars in credit soon from Western governments to feed and supply their territories in the east and support their campaign against Qaddafi.

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