Benghazi: Buoyed by French arms drops
and intensified NATO air strikes on the regime`s frontline
armour, Libya`s rebel army said it was poised for an offensive
that could put it within striking distance of Tripoli.
The rebels` announcement late on Saturday came as a
prolonged deadlock on the battlefield prompted mounting
pressure from countries outside the NATO-led coalition for a
negotiated solution to a conflict that has dragged on for four
and a half months.
South Africa, which has taken a lead role in mediation
efforts, said that President Jacob Zuma would hold talks in
Moscow today with representatives of the International Contact
Group on Libya as well as Russian officials.
Rebel fighters are readying an advance out of their
hilltop enclave in the Nafusa Mountains, southwest of Tripoli,
in the next 48 hours in a bid to recapture territory in the
plains on the road to the capital, spokesman Colonel Ahmed
Omar Bani said.
"In the next two days the (revolutionaries) will come up
with answers, things will change on the front line," he said.
The rebels had pulled back last week from around the
plains town of Bir al-Ghanam, some 80 kilometres (50 miles)
from Tripoli, in the face of loyalist bombardment.
But last week France made a series of controversial
weapons drops to rebel fighters in the Nafusa Mountains and
NATO has bombarded loyalist positions around Bir al-Ghanam and
elsewhere on the front line around the rebel enclave.
Two armoured vehicles belonging to Gaddafi forces were
destroyed in the town on Friday night.
In Gharyan, another government stronghold near the
mountains, NATO aircraft struck eight targets over the past
four days, including a military complex used to resupply
Gaddafi troops, tanks and other military vehicles, the
alliance said on Saturday.
In its daily report for Friday, NATO said it had
launched a total of 42 strike sorties over Libya, hitting two
tanks near Gharyan and two armed vehicles near Bir al-Ghanam.
Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi reacted furiously to the
French arms drops to the rebels, calling on his supporters
Friday to go and retrieve the weapons.
"March on the jebel (mountains) and seize the weapons
that the French have supplied," he said.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe insisted that the
arms were meant only to defend peaceful civilians from
Gaddafi’s forces and thus fell in line with UN Security
Council resolutions on the conflict.
"It is not a violation of the UN Security Council
resolutions" under which France and other allies launched air
strikes and imposed embargoes to protect civilians from
Kadhafi, he said.