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In Libya’s East, Rebels Conduct Hit-And-Run Raids on Better-Armed Forces

March 9, 2011 at 6:13 PM EDT
Moammar Gadhafi said Libyans will "fight back" if other nations impose a no-fly zone over the country as his air force used strikes against opposition forces east of Tripoli. Jonathan Rugman and Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News report from inside Libya on the ongoing violence.
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JIM LEHRER: This was another day of fierce fighting in Libya. Forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi used tanks and sniper fire to press their assault on Zawiyah, outside Tripoli. Doctors reported at least 40 people killed in the latest fighting.

Meanwhile, Gadhafi again rejected any attempt at outside intervention.

We have two reports from Independent Television News, beginning with Jonathan Rugman in Tripoli.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: This was state television’s sanitized version of Zawiyah’s outskirts today. Peace and tranquility are returning, after Zawiyah was freed from al-Qaida-linked gangs, the channel said.

A reporter interviewed Gadhafi’s fighters, all dressed in the green of his 1969 revolution.

“I’m a volunteer,” said one. “I came to liberate the city from gangs and al-Qaida, and the army is 90 percent in control.”

The presenter then told Libyans that masses of people were flowing into Zawiyah’s streets in support of Moammar Gadhafi, a message echoed by supposedly ordinary residents.

WOMAN (through translator): There was no shelling, no airstrikes. Some people had weapons, but we didn’t see any destruction like Al-Jazeera said. It’s all lies.

MAN (through translator): The situation now is perfect. The Libyan army entered Zawiyah and made the city secure.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: We tried driving into Zawiyah independently today. It was our fifth unsuccessful attempt. The town is surrounded by checkpoints like this one where journalists have been arrested and detained.

But we did reach Zawiyah on Sunday, and perfect it was not. Rebels and residents now claim by telephone that bodies lie unrecovered in these ruins. While Zawiyah was being bombarded last night, the colonel kept the foreign press waiting eight hours for a glimpse of him at our hotel.

He gave two interviews, one to a Turkish reporter, in which he dismissed plans for a no-fly zone as a foreign plot.

MOAMMAR GADHAFI, Libyan leader (through translator): It appears that it is a plot against Libya. In the end, it means a determination to take control of Libya and to steal their oil. Then the Libyan people will take up arms against them.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: In Zawiyah, Libyan state television is this evening showing scenes of wild celebration amongst Gadhafi supporters, amid government claims that it has mostly recaptured the town.

In the past, such claims have proved inaccurate, and rebels counterclaim that the battle is not over and that they will regain control tonight.

JEFFREY BROWN: There was also fighting to the east of Tripoli, including new strikes by Gadhafi’s air force.

Lindsey Hilsum reports from that part of the country.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Two small towns in the eastern Libyan desert now the scene of intense fighting. Between Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad, rebels battled it out with Col. Gadhafi’s troops today.

The rebels are not giving up, but their defensive line is ragged. They carry out hit-and-run raids because they’re outgunned. This is a sparsely populated area but crucial, because the rebels need to hold it if they’re to advance on Col. Gadhafi’s hometown of Surt and because of the oil installations along the coast.

Today, Gadhafi’s forces hit the oil terminal at the Port of Sidra near Ras Lanuf, sending a huge plume of smoke into the air. The attack on the Al Sidra oil installation is the most serious economic damage which has been done in the east. But people here are also thinking about the human costs.

This morning, in Ajdabiya hospital, another hour or so east, we found a fighter whose leg had been amputated late last night after similar raids yesterday. We were told he had been fighting for Col. Gadhafi, but all patients are treated here.

DR. MUHAMMED MOFTAH, surgeon: When he was here — he had come for help — he was wondering, where are the Americans? He was told — he got information that they were fighting Americans here and our country’s been invaded. That’s why he went for fighting. But he was fighting his own people.

LINDSEY HILSUM: These young men went to war confident that their determination would be enough to oust Col. Gadhafi. Now they’re not so sure.

JIM LEHRER: In another development, a top Libyan general flew to Egypt, apparently carrying a message from Gadhafi to Egypt’s military rulers.

Libyan emissaries also traveled to Europe to meet with European and NATO officials.