Major attempt by Gaddafi to break Tripoli siege repelled

Last Updated: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 17:51

Cairo: Wary of US and NATO buildup off the
Libyan shores, Muammar Gaddafi on Tuesday attempted to break the
encirclement of his capital Tripoli using tanks and
anti-aircraft artillery but his army was repelled in six hours
of intense fighting by the opposition forces.

Throwing in his ultra loyal elite Khamis brigade and
mercenary militiamen, Gaddafi attempted to retake the towns
closest to the capital, launching a six-pronged attack with
the support of jet fighters, al Jazeera reported.

But the rebels buoyed by defections from the Libyan
army used tanks, mortars and machine guns to push back the
attack on al-Zawiya town, 50 kms west of Tripoli.

There was no word on casualties, the Arab channel
reported. Reports also said that Gaddafi`s air force jets
bombed ammunition depots in the eastern part of the country
which has totally switched sides to his opposition.

"We repulsed the attack. We damaged tanks and the
mercenaries and the army troops fled after that," al Jazeera
reported quoting local fighters.

Gaddafi even called the city`s influential tribal
leader Mohammad al-Maktouf and said that if the rebels did not
quit the city, they would be hit by fighter jets.

The opposition forces now labelling themselves as the
`New Libyan Army` is growing in strength by the day because of
defections of tens of thousands men from Gaddafi`s forces.

But the opposition commanders said it was impossible
to say how many of Libya`s 76,000 personnel strong army has
defected.

They said they have now access to large stores of
weapons from looted military stockpiles or smuggled across the
border.

The channel said the rebel soldiers had become much
more organised and had set up a unified military council in
the East.

"Small groups of rebel soldiers have volunteered to
infiltrate into Tripoli to cause havoc and bolster
pro-democracy groups," the channel said.

The pushing back of the Gaddafi offensive came as the
US moved its naval warships and fighter planes into the
Mediterranean and British Prime Minister David Cameron
threatened Gaddafi with military action.

Speaking in the House of Commons, the British Prime
Minister said "a no-fly zone" can be imposed anytime and his
troops could be involved in peacekeeping in the strife-torn
nation.

Cameron told the House that Britain and his allies
were considering using fighter jets to impose a `no-fly zone`
over Libya to patrol and shoot down Libyan aircrafts ordered
to attack protesters. The British media said the warning came amid growing
concerns that the crumbling regime could use chemical weapons
against its own people.

ABC News said that the amphibious USS Kearsarge armed
with helicopter gunships, Harrier sea fighters and marines had
set sail for the Mediterranean, in a move described by
Pentagon as "tools to provide full range of options" to US
leaders.

The channel also said that giant carrier USS
Enterprise had also been kept on high standby alert in the Red
Sea. These lethal warships could be used to enforce a
`no-fly zone` over Libya.

US officials were tightlipped about the buildup of
forces in the region merely saying it was "repositioning of
forces" to provide options to President Barack Obama.

But the Libyan opposition forces denied that they had
called for international intervention.

Defected interior minister told al Jazeera that
welcoming foreign troops was out of question.

PTI



First Published: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 17:51

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