TOPICS > World

Libyan Rebels’ Hold on Zawiya Buckling After 5 Days of Attacks

March 8, 2011 at 6:11 PM EST
Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi stepped up attacks on rebels in cities and oil fiends across the country as President Obama reiterated calls for Gadhafi to step down. Lindsey Hilsum and Bill Neely of Independent Television News report on the violence from inside Libya.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

JEFFREY BROWN: Libyan forces stepped up their counteroffensive against opposition fighters today. A barrage of firepower assaulted rebels on fronts to the east and west of the capital.

We have two reports from Independent Television News correspondents in Libya.

We begin with Lindsey Hilsum. She’s in the oil port of Ras Lanuf, about 400 miles east of Tripoli.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Heading for the front line with the blessing of their comrades, still determined to drive out Col. Gadhafi’s forces.

This is the last rebel checkpoint before no man’s land. The rebels are making forays into that area and they’re skirmishing further ahead. But they don’t seem to be making much progress. They’ve been here for a couple of days now. It seems like stalemate.

Anti-aircraft guns are their best weapons. They fire randomly, hoping for a lucky shot. It doesn’t stop the bombing. At least four fell in the Ras Lanuf area today. We went to see a house which had been hit. Mercifully, no one was inside. Most of the residents of Ras Lanuf have left. We spotted another bomber overhead.

SAAD HAMID, rebel spokesman: They are fortifying their positions. They do have a considerable force over there, between land troops and artillery, heavy artillery, rocket launchers and as you see aircraft. The rebels, on the other hand, are receiving the enforcements and are using the appropriate tactics to tackle the situation. It’s basically hit-and-run.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Libyan state TV showed pictures of Col. Gadhafi’s forces in Bin Jawad, about 50 miles from where we are. The rebels were pushed back from there on Sunday. Captured prisoners were displayed, counter to the Geneva Conventions. Rebels have told me that Gadhafi’s forces seized several wounded fighters.

We also met a prisoner held by rebels in the town of Ajdabiya. We won’t show his face. The rebels said he was from Col. Gadhafi’s tribe. He said his commanders told him foreigners were attacking Ras Lanuf. He thought he had just been sent there on guard duty. He was being held in a government building where some rebel army commanders were staying.

GEN. DAWAD ESSAI GABSEA, rebel commander (through translator): If Gadhafi leaves, the war will end. If not, we will continue until we get to Tripoli. All the Libyans are with us. If we win at Surt, we will go on to the capital.

(GUNFIRE)

LINDSEY HILSUM: Not much interest here in negotiations, despite today’s reports of contact between the council in Benghazi and Gadhafi’s people.

More families were leaving today, heading east to relative safety. And the fighters were praying, resolute in their belief that God and history are on their side.

GWEN IFILL: To the west, government officials claim they seized a town that was held by rebels just 30 miles from the capital. Opposition forces disputed that, saying they control the town’s square.

Bill Neely is one of the international journalists who has tried to get into Zawiyah. He filed this report from Tripoli.

BILL NEELY: This is the image Col. Gadhafi wants to show of the rebels: on their knees and in his hands. It’s being broadcast over and over on Libyan state television. His message to the country is that the revolution is being crushed, a message rammed home on the front line.

MAN: Yesterday, we killed you in Bin Jawad. Today, we killed you in Ras Lanuf. Tomorrow, we will kill you in everywhere in Libya.

BILL NEELY: We have been prevented by Gadhafi’s forces from reaching the town of Zawiyah, pounded again for a fifth straight day, residents claiming tanks and aircraft were used and that many more people have been killed. It’s the only town in the west of Libya held by rebels, but it’s buckling.

The red carpet is out at this central Tripoli hotel because Col. Gadhafi is due here shortly to send out a message that is expected to be as defiant as ever: Al-Qaida is behind the violence, only 100 or so people have died, and the rebels will be crushed.

Like the desert wind, violence is lashing civilians in Libya, the exodus and the dead adding up to a colossal tragedy, over which Gadhafi still presides. He insists his response to protests and revolt remains restrained and reasonable.

JEFFREY BROWN: In a phone conversation, President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated their demand that Gadhafi must leave Libya as soon as possible. The two leaders also agreed to plan for possible responses, including an arms embargo and a no-fly zone aimed at preventing Gadhafi from bombarding civilians or rebels.

At the same time, at the United Nations, Britain and France drafted a resolution calling for a no-fly zone.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke in London.

WILLIAM HAGUE, British foreign secretary: It has to have a clear legal basis, demonstrable need, and strong international support, and broad support in the region, and a readiness to participate in it.

But clearly it is unacceptable that Col. Gadhafi unleashes so much violence on his own people.

GWEN IFILL: The Arab League has endorsed a no-fly zone, but Russia, which has veto power at the Security Council, opposes the idea.