Libyan forces prepare major knockouts

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tripoli - Libyan forces are mobilising for a major knockout against rebels to recapture rebel strongholds of Benghazi and Misrata as the world is mulling a no-fly zone over the unrest-torn North African country.

Libyan government forces have called on rebel militants to lay down their weapons and have promised to pardon anyone who would give up resistance. 

They also urged residents in the two cities to leave rebel-held locations and arms storage areas.

On Wednesday, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam said government forces were approaching the largest rebel stronghold of Benghazi and all military operations against the rebels would be over in 48 hours.

Saif al-Islam told reporters that Benghazi, the second largest city in the country, would fall whether the UN Security Council agreed to impose a no-fly zone or not. "Everything will be over in 48 hours," he declared.

Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaaim said earlier about 3 000 rebel militants were still fighting in Benghazi.

Witnesses said a military airfield southeast of Benghazi was bombed. In Misrata, 150km east of Tripoli and the country's third largest city, residents said government forces launched a fierce offensive with tanks and artillery from three directions. Water supply was halted in several neighbourhoods.

On Thursday, Gaddafi said his forces would fight a "decisive battle" to recapture Misrata and called on loyalists to take up arms to join the army.

The Libyan government forces announced earlier that they had regained control of most cities which were once in the hands of the rebels.

Media reports quoted a rebel force spokesperson as saying that the rebels were fighting to defend Misrata. The spokesperson claimed that rebel forces had repelled government forces' attacks from "all sides" in Misrata.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council was scheduled to meet again on Thursday to discuss whether to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.

During a meeting on Wednesday, council members went over a draft resolution presented by Lebanon, a non-permanent member of the council, which called for the authorisation of a no-fly zone over Libya.

Diplomats from France and Britain, co-authors of the draft, told reporters they would not accept a resolution that was less strong than Resolution 1970 adopted on 26 February, which imposed sanctions on Libya, including an arms embargo against the Libyan authorities and travel ban and assets freeze directed at Gaddafi and his key family members.

Earlier on Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all parties in the Libyan conflict to "accept an immediate cease-fire," saying that "those responsible for the continuous use of military force against civilians will be held accountable."

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