Libya’s NTC thinks Gaddafi Near Algeria

September 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Joseph Logan and Sherine El Madany

SIRTE (Reuters) – Libya’s new rulers said on Wednesday they believed fugitive former leader Muammar Gaddafi was being shielded by nomadic tribesmen in the desert near the Algerian border, while his followers fend off assaults on his hometown.

Intense sniper and artillery fire from pro-Gaddafi fighters has so far prevented National Transitional Council (NTC) forces from taking Sirte despite more than two weeks of fighting and two full-on assaults.

One of Gaddafi’s last two bastions, it has withstood a siege, NTC tank and rocket fire as well as NATO air strikes, and the United Nations and international aid agencies are worried about conditions for civilians trapped inside.

More than a month since NTC fighters captured the capital Tripoli, Gaddafi remains defiantly on the run pledging to lead a campaign of armed resistance against the new leaders.

Gaddafi himself may be holed up near the western town of Ghadames, near the Algerian border, under the protection of Tuareg tribesmen, a senior NTC military official said.

“There has been a fight between Tuareg tribesmen who are loyal to Gaddafi and Arabs living there (in the south). We are negotiating. The Gaddafi search is taking a different course,” Hisham Buhagiar told Reuters, without elaborating.

Many Tuaregs, nomads who roam the desert spanning the borders of Libya and its neighbors, have backed Gaddafi since he supported their rebellions against the governments of Mali and Niger in the 1970s and allowed them to settle in Libya.

Buhagiar said Gaddafi’s most politically prominent son, Saif al-Islam, was in the other final loyalist holdout, Bani Walid, and that another son, Mutassem, was in Sirte.
Lack of coordination and division at the front-line have been hampering NTC attempts to capture Sirte and Bani Walid.

Fighting continued on separate eastern and western fronts in Sirte on Wednesday and commanders said they would try to join the two fronts together and take the city’s airport.

“There is progress toward the coastal road and the airport…. The plan is for various brigades to invade from other directions,” NTC fighter Amran al-Oweiwi said.

Street-fighting was under way at a roundabout 2 km (1.5 miles) east of the town center, where anti-Gaddafi fighters were pinned down for a third day by sniper and artillery fire.

As NATO planes circled overhead, NTC forces moved five tanks to the front but were immediately met with Grad rockets fired from inside the town, missing the tanks by only yards.

A Reuters crew at the scene saw several NTC fighters flee the front-line under heavy fire while others stood their ground.

“If I die, I’ll die proud,” one fighter shouted as he left a group of hiding comrades and ran back to the front.

“At the buildings! At the buildings!” an NTC commander ordered fighters manning the tanks, in an apparent attempt to target snipers, as thick black smoke rose over the town.

On the western front, fighters leapt into pick-up trucks mounted with machineguns and anti-aircraft guns and raced in the direction of the airport.

Medical workers said 15 fighters were killed in Sirte on Tuesday, the highest single-day death toll. Two more, including a senior NTC field commander, were killed on Wednesday. More than 100 fighters were wounded, many from sniper fire.

NTC fighters captured 60 African mercenaries in Sirte on Wednesday. They said most had come from Chad and Mali to fight with Gaddafi loyalists.

A commander leading the attack on Sirte said on Tuesday he was in talks with elders inside the city about a truce, but the head of an anti-Gaddafi unit on the east rejected negotiations.

In Tripoli, a senior NTC officer said his fighters, on entering Sirte two days ago, had found and seized a helicopter under camouflage that appeared to have been made ready for a swift departure. He told Reuters he suspected the helicopter was assigned for the use of a senior official of the ousted Gaddafi government, possibly one of Gaddafi’s sons.

GADDAFI CLAN STILL VOCAL

As the fighting continues, humanitarian organizations are sounding the alarm about the possibility of civilian casualties in the town. Gaddafi’s spokesman has said NATO air strikes and NTC shelling are killing civilians.

NATO and the NTC deny that. They say Gaddafi loyalists are using civilians inside Sirte as human shields and have kidnapped and executed those they believe to be NTC supporters.

“Our main worry is the people being displaced because of the fighting,” said Jafar Vishtawi, a delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), near Sirte.

Civilians fleeing the town have said there is no power, little water and that the local population is terrified.

Taking the last two Gaddafi strongholds and finding the toppled leader would bring the NTC closer to establishing their credibility as the country’s new rulers.

A Syria-based television station that has been broadcasting audio speeches by Gaddafi, reported on Tuesday that Gaddafi had addressed his supporters and urged them to fight in a speech broadcast on a local radio station in Bani Walid. The report by Arrai television could not be independently verified.

In a separate development, NTC justice minister Mohammed al-Alagi said he was ready to work with Scottish authorities to probe the possible involvement of others in the Lockerbie bombing apart from the sole Libyan convicted for the attack.

His remark reversed a position he took only on Monday, when he said that as far as Libya was concerned the case of the bombing of the U.S.-bound airliner over the Scottish village of Lockerbie with the loss of 270 lives was closed.

Scottish prosecutors had asked Libya’s NTC to give them access to papers or witnesses that could implicate more suspects in the attack, possibly including Gaddafi himself.

(Additional reporting by William MacLean and Alexander Dziadosz in Tripoli, Emad Omar in Benghazi, Samia Nakhoul in London, Christian Lowe and Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers; Writing by Barry Malone; Editing by Peter Graff and Louise Ireland)

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After Libya, Eyes Turn to Syrian Revolt

August 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mariam Karouny

2011-08-20T165637Z_01_BTRE77I169700_RTROPTP_3_INTERNATIONAL-US-SYRIA

A child holds a Syrian flag with Arabic words on it reading: “The people want the execution of killers, and freedom only” during a protest by Jordanians and Syrians against the Syrian government’s crackdown on protesters, near the city of Mafraq at the Jordanian-Syrian border, northeast of Amman August 19, 2011.          

REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed 

BEIRUT (Reuters)” – The downfall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is likely to pave the way for increased Western attention to Syria and embolden protests against President Bashar al-Assad.

The implosion of Gaddafi’s rule after six months of civil war in which the rebels benefited from sanctions on Gaddafi, a no-fly zone and NATO air strikes may have implications for Syri’s six-month-old revolt and Assad’s efforts to crush it.

“The international community will now think that its strong intervention in the struggle (in Syria) will resolve the situation,” said opposition figure Louay Hussein.

“Libya has raised the morale of the West and it will have a bigger excuse to intervene. But we reject any military action in Syria.”

Hussein and other opposition activists said however the events in Tripoli would revive Syrian protesters’ hopes.

“What happened in Libya means a lot for us, it means that the Arab spring is coming without doubt … there is no solution to any problem without the will of the people,” said Michel Kilo, a prominent opposition figure.

No country has proposed the kind of action in Syria which NATO forces have carried out in Libya. But the West has called on Assad to step down and Washington has imposed new sanctions over his crackdown, in which the United Nations says 2,200 civilians have died.

Syria has an alliance with Iran and a key role in Lebanon, despite ending a 29-year military presence there in 2005. It also has influence in Iraq and supports militant groups Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah.

Assad on Sunday said Syria would not bow to external pressure, which he said could only affect “a president made in the United States and a subservient people who get their orders from outside.”

“As for the threat of a military action … any action against Syria will have greater consequences (on those who carry it out), greater than they can tolerate,” he said.

Assad has responded to the unrest with a mixture of reforms and force. He granted citizenship to hundreds of thousands of ethnic Kurds, ended a state of emergency and promised to let groups other than his Baath party run in elections.

Analysts and opposition figures said they expected the situation in Syria to deteriorate further, with authorities intensifying the crackdown and protesters not backing down.

“After what happened in Libya I think he (Assad) will be tougher with the security option he is taking,” Boumonsef said.

“He sees what (he calls) the international conspiracy on him will be stronger and now that Gaddafi is out of the way it will move toward him in full strength … This is imminent.”

Some opposition figures expressed fears that Libya’s endgame might encourage voices among the opposition calling for the arming of a hitherto largely peaceful movement in Syria.

“I fear that some in the opposition who are in a hurry to end the regime, who we have always warned against repeating the Libyan example, will say now it has been successful and resort to arms,” said Hussein, who was detained during the uprising.

“But we will resist such proposals, regardless of where they are coming from.”

The anti-Assad movement is fragmented. “Despite everything that is happening, the opposition remains stuck over little issues like personal issues between its leaders,” Kilo said.

Boumonsef said it would try harder, with international help, to unify.

“The opposition will be motivated more. There is no return and (Assad’s) reforms will not stop anything. It is too late.”

Encouraged after Western leaders called on Assad to step down, Syrian opposition figures are holding talks in Istanbul to nominate a broad-based council that could aid in a transition of power if Assad is toppled.

Unlike previous opposition conferences, which were marked by divisions between Islamists and liberals, participants said there was broad agreement on 120 nominees for the council from inside and outside Syria.

The council would speak for dissidents in exile and activists on the ground, opposition figures told Reuters.

But some poured cold water on the idea. “There is no interest inside Syria in a conference happening outside because the public opinion and those inside Syria believe that what is happening outside is marginal,” Kilo said.

“We do not need a transitional council … the real challenge is not what should be done after the regime collapses but for us it is what should be done every day so that we remain standing.”

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