New Warnings From Obama as Qaddafi Forces Attack Againhttp://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/08/world/africa/08libya.html?_r=1&ref=global-home
RAS LANUF, Libya — Government warplanes bombed rebel positions near this coastal city’s oil refinery on Monday, seeking to drive them further back to the east, as President Obama again warned that the West was considering all its options in Libya, including possible military intervention.
The airstrikes, which killed at least one person, started in the morning, sending huge plumes of smoke into the air around 10 a.m. At every sound of a jet engine, the rebels opened fire with what sounded like every weapon available, including heavy artillery and pistols. In the evening, a warplane swooped low and on two separate occasions, dropped bombs near a heavily-defended rebel checkpoint, causing an untold number of casualties.
The strikes came a day after troops loyal to Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi stormed the town of Bin Jawwad, just to Ras Lanuf’s west, and sent the fighters holding it into retreat. But the colonel’s loyalists remained on the city’s outskirts, taking no immediate steps to recapture Ras Lanuf from the rebels, who took control two days ago in their westward push.
The rebels have said they would welcome Western help in the form of a no-fly zone, and on Tuesday the Gulf Arab States issued a similar request, Reuters reported. President Obama said Monday that the United States was conferring with its NATO allies about possible military action. “We’ve got NATO as we speak consulting in Brussels around a wide range of potential options, including potential military options, in response to the violence that continues to take place inside of Libya,” he said.
On Monday RIA Novosti reported that the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said Moscow was against any form of foreign intervention in Libya, casting doubt on United Nations-backed action. But Russia is not a member of NATO.
Mr. Obama also had a warning for high-ranking Qaddafi loyalists. “I want to send a very clear message to those who are around Colonel Qaddafi,” he said at the White House, after a meeting with Australia’s prime minister, Julia Gillard. “It is their choice to make how they operate moving forward and they will be held accountable for whatever violence continues to take place there.”
On Sunday, troops loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi attacked rebel troops in the coastal town of Bin Jawwad using tanks, helicopters and fighter planes, and pushed them east, stalling, for the moment, hopes by the antigovernment fighters of a steady march toward Tripoli.
On Monday, with the government fighters striking Ras Lanuf, residents — including many foreign workers — could be seen fleeing the city. Inside the town, on a grassy hill overlooking the sea, teenagers placed branches around an anti-aircraft gun for cover.
Hamed Sardina, a retired harbormaster, drank tea with a friend nearby and said he was not planning to leave. “We’re here to defend the area,” he said, pointing to the low white homes across the street. And in case the fighting became too fierce, he owned a few boats, he said.
The fighting in Bin Jawwad began Sunday about 9 a.m., said rebel fighters, who had to retreat down the main coastal road under a barrage of artillery shells, missiles and sniper bullets. Outgunned, the rebels fanned out in the desert and fought back, only to be forced to retreat again.
The fighting fit into the emerging, grueling rhythm of a conflict where the combatants claim no clear advantage and fight, repeatedly, over a handful of prizes.
In the east, the rebels, full of enthusiasm but short on training and organization, are trying to move toward Surt, a stronghold of Colonel Qaddafi that blocks the rebel path to Tripoli. They are also fighting to hold onto the city of Zawiyah, west of Tripoli, where they have accused the loyalists of committing a massacre.
Government troops, having ceded large, strategic parts of the country in recent days, are better armed but still on the defensive as they try to undo rebel gains.
On Saturday, forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi waged a heavy assault toward the center of Zawiyah, then pulled back to close off all roads out.
On Sunday, rebels in nearby towns said mobile phone service to Zawiyah had been cut off completely and landline service was intermittent, making it hard to gather information. Secondhand reports through rebel networks on Sunday indicated Libyan Army tanks had once again moved into the center of the town.
A correspondent for the British television channel Sky News — the only news organization present in Zawiyah for the height of the battle on Friday — reported Monday in a British newspaper on what appeared to be a massacre. She said she had watched Qaddafi snipers killing residents at a funeral, a column of 25 tanks shelling the town for three hours and a young rebel boy learning how to fire rocket propelled grenade in defense. The correspondent, Alex Crawford, said Qaddafi forces had shot at an ambulance she was riding in.
In a second attack Saturday morning, Ms. Crawford reported that government soldiers were firing randomly into buildings. “There were horrific injuries,” Ms. Crawford wrote. “A boy of 10 was hit by several bullets outside his house. One young man came in with an antitank grenade in his thigh, the fins sticking out. He was still conscious.”
She added: “An hour later, we saw the military column racing away — another attack had been beaten off. It was the third in two days. When we left, there were eight tanks destroyed or captured, and the rebels still held the centre.”
An hour before dawn on Sunday, Tripoli also erupted in gunfire, the sounds of machine guns and heavier artillery echoing through the capital. It was unclear what set off the gunfire, but quickly, Qaddafi supporters took to the streets, waving green flags and firing guns into the air. Crowds converged on Green Square for a rally, with many people still shooting skyward.
Refugees continued to flee to neighboring countries, sometimes with tragic consequences. The authorities in Crete said that at least three Bangladeshi evacuees from Libya died Sunday after they tried to swim from a Greek ferry toward the island.
As of Friday, about 192,000 people had fled the country, according to the International Organization for Migration. Of those, 104,000 people had crossed into Tunisia and about 87,000 had fled to Egypt. More than 5,000 people are stranded at Libya’s border with Egypt, the organization said, including many Bangladeshis and Sub-Saharan Africans.
Eight British Special Forces soldiers were briefly taken captive by Libyan rebel forces in the east of the country, according to British news reports on Sunday.
The soldiers, from the elite Special Air Service, had been part of a team escorting a British diplomat to meet with Libyan rebels, according to The Sunday Times of London, which first reported on the incident. The newspaper cited anonymous Libyan and British sources and said the men had been held at a military base over the weekend.
Further reports later Sunday suggested that the eight men had been released and were aboard the Cumberland, a Royal Navy ship off the coast of Libya.
The British foreign secretary, William Hague, confirmed in a statement that “a small British diplomatic team” in Benghazi, a rebel-held city in eastern Libya, tried to “initiate contacts with the opposition” but “experienced difficulties, which have now been satisfactorily resolved.”
“They have now left Libya.” Mr. Hague said.