Qaddafi forces shell Ajdabiyah, pound Misratah as stalemate hardens

Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s loyalists shelled the key eastern city of Ajdabiyah and fired on the only western rebel stronghold of Misratah as NATO airstrikes hit the capital, Tripoli.

Yannis Behrakis/Reuters
A rebel fighter sits atop a pick-up truck loaded with anti-aircraft ammunition at the western entrance of Ajdabiyah, Saturday. More than 16 rebel fighters were wounded and at least 6 were killed during fighting on the road between Ajdabiyah and Brega, Sunday.

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Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi shelled the strategic eastern city of Ajdabiyah Sunday, a day after rebel forces pushed from that town toward the oil port city of Brega.

Qaddafi’s loyalists also fired on the western city of Misratah, where dozens have been wounded and food supplies are running out, as NATO airstrikes struck the capital, Tripoli. The back-and-forth comes a month after the United Nations authorized the use of force to protect civilians in Libya, as the conflict has settled into what looks like a stalemate.

Reuters reports that Qaddafi’s forces shelled rebels outside Ajdabiyah Sunday, and that some of the opposition forces were fleeing. According to Reuters, the Qaddafi loyalists have bombed the road leading from Ajdabiyah west to Brega, about 50 miles away, repeatedly over past days. On Saturday, the rebel forces had pushed along that road toward Brega and said they controlled the outskirts of the city, while Qaddafi’s forces held the center, Al Jazeera reports. The rebels reached the town after NATO airstrikes, but 6 died and 16 were wounded in the assault.

Meanwhile, Qaddafi’s forces bombed residential areas of Misratah, the rebels’ only major stronghold in the west, for the fourth straight day. It has been cut off from rebel-held territory in the east for weeks, and conditions are reportedly growing worse there, with as many as 700 killed in past weeks and a food shortage growing. Reuters reports that at least six people were killed and 47 wounded in the early morning shelling. Al Jazeera reports that Sunday’s shelling hit food industry facilities, and that the group Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) was able to evacuate about 99 wounded people to Tunisia.

Saturday, The Washington Post reported that loyalist forces tried to cut off Misrata’s port, its only remaining lifeline. The city council spokesman begged NATO to intervene to prevent a massacre in the besieged city.

CNN reports that a rebel official said Qaddafi’s forces in Misrata are using what appear to be shells from grenade launchers, which either did not explode on impact or have been deliberately placed around the city. They have exploded and killed people, according to the official. On Thursday, Human Rights Watch accused Libyan forces of using cluster bombs, which are banned internationally. Libya’s government has denied using them.

As the conflict drags on, The New York Times reports that rebels say they are receiving arms from abroad. They did not identify the nations that provided the weapons, although Qatar has publicly said that it would help arm the rebels. The Times reports that deputy head of the rebels’ National Transitional Council, Abdul Hafidh Ghoga, said last week that the rebel forces would welcome both weapons and foreign trainers, though not ground troops.

On Saturday, Mr. Gheriani said the rebels had opened “professional training centers.” Asked if he meant that foreign advisers or trainers were present, he declined to reply but winked broadly, twice. “We have a lot of people being trained, real professional training, that we don’t talk to the world about,” he said.

The apparent arming of the rebels comes as The Washington Post reports that NATO is running short on precision bombs, which may mean the US will have to step in and take the lead in the military operation. The US began the campaign, before turning over control to NATO and stepping back to a supportive role. The Post reports that several US military officials said they expect to be asked to return to participation in the attacks.

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