Libyan rebels face setback after refinery hit

Libyan rebels faced new obstacles in their campaign to march on Tripoli after shelling from Muammar Gaddafi’s forces damaged an oil refinery in the insurgent stronghold of Misrata, disrupting fuel supply lines.A Reuters photographer in Misrata joined rebel units as they pushed their front several kilometers (miles) west on Monday to the outskirts of Zlitan, a town controlled by Gaddafi’s forces.

Any fighting over Zlitan would bring the rebellion closer to the capital Tripoli, the Libyan leader’s stronghold which lies 200 km (120 miles) west of Misrata.

A doctor in a field hospital to the west of Libya‘s third largest city said two rebels had been killed and a dozen wounded after the two sides traded heavy artillery fire.

Rebels from Misrata say tribal sensitivities prevent them from attacking Zlitan, and they are instead waiting for local inhabitants to rise up.

Late on Monday, six rockets hit generators at the refinery near Misrata port leaving them heavily damaged. An engineer on site said it was unclear how long it would take to repair.

NATO said it struck an armored vehicle armed with anti-aircraft guns east of Tripoli on Tuesday as well as a multiple rocket launcher and another anti-aircraft system.

A NATO statement said the alliance also struck an armed pickup truck, a tank, a multiple rocket launcher and an armored vehicle in Misrata on Monday night.

“These types of equipment have been used to indiscriminately target the civilian population throughout Libya,” the commander of the NATO mission, Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, said.

“NATO will maintain the pressure on the Gaddafi regime and continue to take action to protect civilians wherever they are under threat of attack.”

The fighting east of Tripoli came during an apparent lull in NATO bombardment of the Libyan capital, a lull which continued through Tuesday, although state television reported the alliance had bombarded targets in Al Jufrah in the center of the country.

NATO defense chiefs were due to meet in Belgrade on Tuesday to discuss the mission, after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates accused some European allies of failing to pull their weight in a mission he feared could run out of steam.

Libyan troops fired Grad rockets from positions controlled by Gaddafi’s forces over the border into Tunisia on Tuesday, witnesses said, in an assault likely to raise already high tensions between the two countries.

The explosions, close to rebel territory along the border in Libya‘s Western Mountains, caused no damage or injuries.

The last time Libyan forces fired rockets into Tunisia, on May 17, the Tunisian government threatened to report Libya to the U.N. Security Council for committing “enemy actions.”

Fighting flared at the weekend in the town of Zawiyah, 50 km (30 miles) west of the capital — clashes the rebel leadership said were a sign that the momentum in the four-month-old conflict was shifting their way.

But a Zawiyah resident, who could only be identified as Mohamed, told Reuters by phone on Tuesday that it had since gone quiet, with neither side having advanced much from their original positions.

“Things are now calm in Zawiyah. Gaddafi’s forces are still in their place in town and on the main road,” he said.

The main highway west from Tripoli to Tunisia, which had been closed because of the fighting, appeared to have re-opened.


A rebel spokesman in Zintan, in the rebel-held Western Mountains range southwest of Tripoli, said the town had been quiet on Monday after being subjected to its heaviest bombardment by pro-Gaddafi forces in several weeks on Sunday.

Gaddafi has said the rebels are criminals and al Qaeda militants. He has described the NATO military intervention as an act of colonial aggression aimed at grabbing Libya‘s oil.

Western governments say they believe it is only a matter of time before Gaddafi’s 41-year rule ends under the weight of NATO military intervention, sanctions and defections.

NATO member Germany became the latest country to recognize the rebel council based in the second city of Benghazi as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people, giving heavyweight support to rebels poised to run the country.

France, Qatar, Italy and the United Arab Emirates have already recognized the Transitional National Council.

“We share the same goal — Libya without Gaddafi,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in Benghazi.

Libya‘s foreign ministry in a statement condemned the visit as an “irresponsible step by the German state.”

“The visit by the foreign minister of … Germany to Benghazi is a blatant violation of national sovereignty and … international laws,” it said, adding that Germany was “recognizing an imaginary council that only represents itself.”

Adding to diplomatic pressure on Gaddafi, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged African leaders to abandon him.

Gaddafi has styled himself the African “king of kings” and over the years won support from many African states in exchange for financial help and generous gifts. Most countries on the continent have been lukewarm toward the rebels.

“Your words and your actions could make the difference… (in ending this situation) …and allowing the people of Libya to get to work writing a constitution and rebuilding their country,” Clinton said in a speech to the African Union in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.


MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) – By Matt Robinson(Additional reporting by Souhail Karam in Rabat, Tarek Amara in Tunis, Nick Carey in Tripoli, Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers and David Brunnstrom in Brussels; Writing by Tim Cocks and John Irish; Editing by Giles Elgood)


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