Libyan forces prepare major knockout as world mulls no-fly zone

08:25, March 18, 2011      

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Libyan forces were mobilizing for a major knockout against rebels to recapture rebel strongholds of Benghazi and Misrata as the world is mulling a no-fly zone over the unrest-torn North African country.

Libyan government forces have called on rebel militants to lay down their weapons and have promised to pardon anyone who would give up resistance. They also urged residents in the two cities to leave rebel-held locations and arms storage areas.

On Wednesday, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam said government forces were approaching the largest rebel stronghold of Benghazi and all military operations against the rebels would be over in 48 hours.

Saif al-Islam told reporters that Benghazi, the second largest city in the country, would fall whether the UN Security Council agreed to impose a no-fly zone or not. "Everything will be over in 48 hours," he declared.

Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaaim said earlier about 3,000 rebel militants were still fighting in Benghazi.

Witnesses said on Wednesday that a military airfield southeast of Benghazi was bombed. In Misrata, 150 km east of Tripoli and the country's third largest city, residents said government forces launched a fierce offensive with tanks and artillery from three directions. Water supply halted in several neighborhoods.

Gaddafi said his forces would fight a "decisive battle" Thursday to recapture Misrata and called on loyalists to take up arms to join the army.

The Libyan government forces announced earlier that it had regained control of most cities which were once in the hands of the rebels.

Media reports quoted a rebel force spokesman as saying that the rebels were fighting to defend Misrata. The spokesman claimed that rebel forces had repelled government forces' attack from "all sides" in Misrata.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council was scheduled to meet again on Thursday to discuss whether to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.

During a meeting on Wednesday, the council members went over a draft resolution presented by Lebanon, a non-permanent member of the council, which called for the authorization of a no-fly zone over Libya.

Diplomats from France and Britain, co-authors of the draft, told reporters that they would not accept a resolution that is less strong than Resolution 1970 adopted on Feb. 26, which imposed sanctions on Libya, including an arms embargo against the Libyan authorities and travel ban and asset freeze directed at Gaddafi and his key family members.

Earlier on Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all parties in the Libyan conflict to "accept an immediate cease-fire," saying that "those responsible for the continuous use of military force against civilians will be held accountable."


Deputy Foreign Minister Kaaim said Wednesday that Libya may adopt preferential policies when renewing its oil contracts with other countries.

The new measures will be reflected in Libya's cooperation with other countries in oil-related fields, said the official.

He said Libya will continue to respect the existing contracts with oil companies of the West, adding that the country's national oil company still maintains contact with some partners of the West, including several U.S. companies.

The deputy foreign minister expressed the hope that the safety of all people will be secured in Libya and those who left the country temporarily due to the current turbulence will return to the country to resume work soon.

But Kaaim admitted that the current crisis will inevitably affect its cooperation with some oil companies of the West.

Libya has descended into civil war-like clashes following widespread street protests against the 41-year rule of Gaddafi, triggering worries that the country's unrest will further aggravate the turbulence in the global oil market.

Source: Xinhua
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