Loyalists repel anti-Qaddafi forces' push on stronghold of Bani Walid
The fight for Bani Walid – a stronghold of former leader Muammar Qaddafi – is a critical step in the complete 'liberation' of Libya from Qaddafi's rule.
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Bani Walid was surrounded on Sunday, with an offensive expected anytime, though reports suggested open divisions between tribes and different frontlines are complicating the decision to advance. Some 500 anti-Qaddafi fighters have moved toward Sabha in the last two days; and fighting has been taking place on the flanks of Sirte.Skip to next paragraph
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“We would like to reassure you about the ethics of the revolutionaries,” said Daw Salaheen, the commander for Bani Walid’s northern front, speaking Saturday at a frontline position two miles north of the town. His message for Bani Walid residents was that it was “not too late to lay down your weapons.” Holdouts were Qaddafi loyalists and mercenaries, he said, while forces gathered at the lip of a nearby hill.
“We ask our citizens to be aware of those criminals, and to be away from them, because they will not hesitate to put you at harm,” said Mr. Salaheen. “Anyone who lays his weapon down and doesn’t fight the revolutionaries, and doesn’t harm the civilians, will be safe in our hands and we will protect him.”
The NTC had sought to end the standoff peacefully. But days of talks foundered – and a week-long deadline extension to surrender passed on Saturday – as it became increasingly clear that Bani Walid would not give up without a fight.
“It’s going to be difficult, because the dogs of Qaddafi – those involved in killing people in all Libya – all of them escaped to Bani Walid,” said fighter Omran, speaking at a school converted to an emergency hospital up the Tripoli road.
Journalists on Saturday were permitted to get to within two miles of the town of 50,000, where electricity still works but telephone lines have been cut by pro-Qaddafi forces, say NTC officials.
Fierce fight for Bani Walid
Anti-Qaddafi forces blasted their guns into the sky and shouted “God is great!” But incoming rifle fire and three grad rockets landed nearby prompting looks of panic on the faces of some fighters.
NATO aircraft could then be heard overhead. The sounds of at least five bombs were then heard, raising clouds of smoke in the distance of Bani Walid. NATO said Sunday that it hit a tank, two armed vehicles, and one multiple rocket launcher in the Saturday strikes near Bani Walid. Airstrikes also targeted the areas around Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, and the towns of Waddan and Sabha in the south.
“Two conditions [loyalists in Bani Walid] give us: Come to the town without weapons, and we want to talk to NATO,” said Abdullah Kanshil, the top NTC negotiator, speaking at that point of the frontline. He said that for loyalists, the former rebel forces – which now control Tripoli and most of the country – remain “non-existent.”
To the demands of pro-Qaddafi forces in the town, said Mr. Kanshil, the NTC replied: “NATO is not in our hands, and we can’t go [into Bani Walid] or they will kill us. So we told them we can’t do that.”
Kanshil said Qaddafi’s sons Saif and Moatissim, as well as regime spokesman Musa Ibrahim, could still be in the town. Mr. Ibrahim had been broadcasting messages from three locations in Bani Walid: a house, a military barracks, and an office for the electricity company, according to Kanshil.
“Those guys, really they want Libya to be a hell,” added Kanshil. “I’m sure they want to use the others to fight for their cause … they will not fight. But they instigate people to fight and fight and fight. But I’m sure when they know, the moment [of defeat], they will leave as they left [Qaddafi’s] Bab al-Aziziya compound.”