Gaddafi troops surround Libyan city after clashes


Troops loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi were surrounding the city of Zlitan, just 160 km east of Tripoli, on Saturday, rebels said, after fighting broke out there that could open up the coastal road to the capital. Sporadic clashes between Gaddafi’s forces and the rebels continued in Zlitan, a rebel spokesman said, after the rebels took control of some parts of it. He said the situation was calmer than on Friday and the toll remained 22 rebels killed.
“Zlitan is still surrounded by Gaddafi troops and they are threatening the residents to surrender or have their women raped by mercenaries,” spokesman Ahmed Bani said.
It was not possible to independently verify the rebels’ claim. There was no immediate comment from Gaddafi’s government.
Zlitan is one of three towns that are largely government controlled between the rebel-held Misrata and the capital. Were it to fall, it could allow the anti-Gaddafi uprising to spread from Misrata, the biggest rebel outpost in western Libya, to Gaddafi’s stronghold in Tripoli.
Gaddafi’s forces also shelled for the first time the world heritage-listed city of Gadamis, 600 km (370 miles) southwest of Tripoli on the Tunisia and Algerian border, overnight, opening a new front in the five-month civil war. A Reuters correspondent in Tripoli heard no new NATO bombings on Saturday. Rebels in various flashpoints also said there were no new air strikes.
World powers have given mixed signals on how the war might play out, with Russia trying to mediate reconciliation. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday he had offered a “guarantee” to Gaddafi if he left Libya, but received no reply.
With diplomacy stalling, fighting was erupting on new fronts. Rebels said the oasis town of Gadamis with a population of about 7,000 people, mainly Berber, was under attack after an anti-government protest in the old Roman city on Wednesday.
“Gadamis is being shelled by Gaddafi forces, according to witnesses in the town,” spokesman Juma Ibrahim said from the rebel-held town of Zintan in the Western Mountains. “This is a retaliation for anti-regime protests,” he said. The old town was de-populated by Gaddafi in the 1990s and its inhabitants moved into modern buildings. It was not clear if the attack hit the old town, a labyrinth of narrow, underground passages and houses known as the “Pearl of the Desert”. In the besieged port city of Misrata, a doctor at the Hekma hospital said 31 people were killed and 110 wounded in shelling by pro-Gaddafi forces on Friday. A rebel said Misrata was quiet on Saturday.
“Today there is complete quiet in the city after the shelling continued late last night,” a rebel called Reda told Reuters by telephone. “But we expect bombardment at any time.” The United States accused some NATO allies on Friday of failing to pull their weight. “The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly-armed regime in a sparsely-populated country — yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the US, once more, to make up the difference,” US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a valedictory speech at NATO headquarters in Brussels.