Forces loyal to Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi have been pushed back by Benghazi rebels after coalition airstrikes grounded both the Libyan airforce and tank columns.
The rebels yesterday retook the oil export towns of Brega and Ajdabiya in the country’s east, the latter 30 miles from the refining station at Ras Lanouf.
Spokesperson for the rebel’s Transitional National Council, Shamsiddin Abdulmollah, told journalists in Banghazi that Gaddafi’s forces were “now on the back because they no longer have air power and heavy weaponry available.”
AFP meanwhile reports that 117 people have been killed and more than 1300 wounded in a week of attacks by Gaddafi’s forces on Misrata, Libya’s third largest city, which has been targeted by snipers and artillery after French aircraft destroyed at least five planes and two helicopters in the region yesterday.
US President Barack Obama stated over the weekend that NATO was fulfilling the UN Security Council’s resolution and that the no-fly zone had been established to protect civilians.
“Make no mistake, because we acted quickly, a humanitarian catastrophe has been avoided and the lives of countless civilians – innocent men, women and children – have been saved,” Obama said.
Gaddafi’s government has accused the international community of pushing the country into civil war by choosing sides: “it is not to protect civilians because now they are directly fighting against the armed forces,” Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim told Associated Press.
Libya’s former ambassador to the United States, Ali Aujali, has meanwhile praised the intervention as warding off “another massacre in Africa that [would have been] remembered like Srebrenica and Rwanda. It was the right action at the right time.”
Meanwhile, the foreign press pack in Tripoli was visibly shaken after a woman in her 30s, Iman al-Obeidi, burst in on foreign journalists at the Rixos Al Nasr hotel to say she had been gang raped by 15 government militia.
Obeidi showed the media slashes and bruises on her body, and screamed as Gaddafi’s media minders hauled her outside. Two journalists who tried to protect Obeidi were punched and beaten by the minders, who smashed cameras and reportedly drew a gun and threatened the media, claiming Obeidi was mentally ill.
Correspondent with the UK’s Channel 4 television station, Jonathan Miller, was knocked to the ground and kicked when he attempted to intervene.
“There was a desperate sense of our failure to prevent the thugs taking her away,” Miller told papers in the UK today. “There was nothing more that we could have done as we were overtly threatened by considerable physical force.”