Libyan Rebels Push Towards Tripoli on Two Fronts

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Peter Graff

2011-07-06T212010Z_307909548_GM1E7770F1801_RTRMADP_3_LIBYA

A Libyan boy flashing a victory sign attends a rally against Muammar Gaddafi in Misrata July 6, 2011.  

REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani

AL-QAWALISH, Libya (Reuters) – Rebel fighters seized a village south of the Libyan capital and another group advanced toward Tripoli from the east on Wednesday in the biggest push in weeks toward Muammar Gaddafi’s main stronghold.

Rebels firing their rifles into the air in celebration poured into the village of Al-Qawalish, 100 km (60 miles) southwest of Tripoli, after a six-hour battle with pro-Gaddafi forces who had been holding the town.

Rushing through an abandoned checkpoint where government troops had left tents and half-eaten bread in their rush to get away, the rebels ripped down pro-Gaddafi flags.

Farther north, rebels pushed westward from the city of Misrata to within 13 km of the center of the town of Zlitan, where large numbers of pro-Gaddafi forces are based.

But they came under artillery fire. Doctors at the al-Hekma hospital in Misrata said 14 fighters had been killed on Wednesday and about 50 were injured.

The advances came amid reports that Gaddafi — under pressure from a five-month uprising against his rule, sanctions and a NATO bombing campaign — was seeking a deal under which he would step down.

His government has denied any such negotiations are underway, and NATO’s chief said he had no confirmation that Gaddafi was looking for a deal to relinquish power.

A Libyan official told Reuters on Wednesday there were signs a solution to the conflict could be found by the start of August, though he did not say what that solution might involve.

In the rebel-held cities of Benghazi and Misrata, thousands demonstrated against Gadaffi, waving European and rebel flags and calling for the end of his four-decade rule.

The rebel advances followed weeks of largely static fighting. Heavily armed Gaddafi forces still lie between the rebels and Tripoli, and previous rebel advances have either bogged down or quickly turned into retreats.

But with Al-Qawalish now in rebel hands, they can advance northeast to the larger town of Garyan, which controls the main highway leading into Tripoli. Libyan state television reported on Wednesday that NATO hit targets in Garyan as well fuel tanks in the town of Brega, 200 km (130 miles) west of Benghazi.

The previous big advance in the region was last month, when rebels pushed 20 km (12 miles) north from their base in the Western Mountains to the town of Bir al-Ghanam.

Misrata Push

At the frontline on the outskirts of Zlitan, a unit of fighters had built a sand-bank behind which they could shelter while firing at government troops. There were still sounds of intermittent shelling as night fell.

Unit commander Tarek Mardi, a 36-year-old former banker, said pro-Gaddafi forces had tried to push his fighters back but they had held their ground.

“Why isn’t NATO doing its job, where are the Apaches?” he asked, referring to the attack helicopters the alliance had deployed to Libya. “We are protecting our people, our country. We want to save our land from Gaddafi. He is a criminal.”

More than 100,000 rebel supporters spilled into the streets of Benghazi waving European and rebel flags and chanting slogans against the Libyan leader.

Gaddafi, who has ruled oil producer Libya for 41 years, says the rebels are armed criminals and al Qaeda militants. He has described the NATO campaign as an act of colonial aggression aimed at stealing Libya’s oil.

Deal Talk

A Russian newspaper this week quoted what it described as a high-level source as saying Gaddafi is sounding out the possibility of stepping down on condition there was a political role for one of his sons.

A Libyan government spokesman denied that report, saying Gaddafi’s future was not up for negotiation.

Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim told Reuters in Tripoli that a solution to the conflict could be found before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins early in August.

“There are signals that the crisis will find a solution in the coming weeks. We will do whatever possible so that our people will spend Ramadan in peace,” he said.

“Currently the key hurdle to a solution is the NATO military campaign, and we hope that our friends in the African Union organization will do whatever possible to convince it to stop its aggression against our people.”

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he had no confirmed information that Gaddafi had sounded out the possibility of stepping down.

“But it is quite clear that the end state must be that he leaves power,” Rasmussen told a news conference in Brussels.

(Additional reporting by Nick Carey in Misrata, Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers, Lamine Chikhi in Tripoli, David Brunnstrom in Brussels, Maria Golovnina in Benghazi, Joseph Nasr in Berlin and Moscow bureau; Writing by Christian Lowe and David Dolan; Editing by Diana Abdallah)

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Eyewitness to the Fight for Freedom in Libya

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

Dr. Mahmoud Traina, an American born cardiologist of Libyan descent, visited the besieged city of Benghazi from the 23rd of February through the 5th of March. The city of Benghazi was the birthplace of the revolution against Muammar Qaddafi and the scene of the greatest violence and injury for the freedom fighters.

It was in Benghazi that the freedom fighters are trying to coordinate the efforts of the war. A number of former Qaddafi supporters, including members of the military,  joined the side of the freedom fighters. This includes membership in the Transitional National Council (TNC), the council of the freedom fighters.  Dr. Traina met one of the Libyan freedom fighters, Omar Al-Harari, a member of the TNC though not the head.

Dr. Traina reports that the spirit in Benghazi was euphoric for the people. Despite attacks and deprivation the people were joyous and optimistic in their efforts to secure the freedom that so much of the world takes for granted.

One person told him, “You can’t imagine the feeling of now being free after 42 years. Now that we have tasted freedom, we will never go back, no matter the price”.

Dr. Traina had received word earlier in the day from his sister that she and her family escaped from Misrata and were currently in  England.  Other family members and friends were still in harm’s way putting a cloud over this good news.

The living conditions in Benghazi are horrendous. There is no electricity, no water, and no sanitation. There are no infant supplies. Only the most basic medicines are available. A Cholera epidemic is a very real possibility. The hospitals are so crowded that they have had to dislodge half of their patient load to be cared from outdoors under tents. Injuries to limbs, normally treatable by orthopedic surgery, have often resulted, due to these primitive conditions, in amputations. There are no functional Intensive Care Units to treat for the critically ill and/or post surgical patients.

The lines for bread involve a three hour wait.

Dr. Traina spoke of the conditions he witnessed. “In Benghazi, people were beginning the process of self-rule and organization.  Volunteers manned the traffic signals, and organized traffic.  Others helped to feed the people with donated food in improvised “soup kitchens”. Other groups were going around cleaning up the debris in the city left from the violence. Medical staff was working overtime to care for the ill, especially the nursing staff who remained. (A large number of the nursing staff were foreign workers, and many of them left the country, but many stayed, and said they couldn’t abandon the patients who needed them)”.

Dr. Traina said that Qaddafi, after 42 years of despotic rule, believes that Libya belongs to him as one would own a personal possession. Qaddafi has said that if necessary to keep his power he will kill every Libyan and restock the country. He has used mercenaries from Chad, Mali and Niger. This became obvious when some of the mercenaries became hospitalized, and the personnel in attendance realized these patients spoke no Arabic.

In addition, Dr. Traina believes that there are pro-Qaddafi cells in Benghazi ready to spring into action when called upon.

When asked about opinion in the street about the United States and NATO as having a role to play, Dr. Trains replied that the Libyans want to win their freedom through their own acts. It is they who must play the leading role.

The Libyan people, he continued, want freedom as Americans know freedom. They want an open and accountable government and the freedom to form political parties. Nearly 100% of Libyans are Muslim, and Islam will play a role in their government. This is comparable to the role Christianity played in the early days of the American republic. Islam and freedom are totally compatible, he said, citing the Prophet Muhammad (s) and his early followers.

Dr. Traina dismissed the idea that the revolution, when successful, could be hijacked by radical forces. The people have fought too hard for their freedom and would guard in jealously.

Some organizations, he continued, have been able to get aid in by working with United Nations agencies. Others based in Ireland and the UK have been successful in this arena because they are not subject to the same sanctions.

Dr. Traina has suggested two web sites that he both recommends and is involved with. They are: www.libyanemergencyaid.com and www.islamicreliefusa.org/libya .

Dr. Traina is Assistant Professor of Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and on the cardiology staff at Olive View – UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar.

The Muslim Observer thanks him for his time.

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