Libya: battles rage for Ajdabiya, Misrata; rebels form government
As Allied bombardment of Tripoli continued, Libyan rebels advanced on Ajdabiya March 24 in their bid to retake the strategic eastern oil town from troops loyal to Moammar Qaddafi. The rebels, whose weapons range from Kalashnikovs to knives, face cordons of tanks guarding approaches to the city, and the populace is fleeing en masse. In Benghazi, rebel spokesman Ahmed Omar Bani said: "We are trying to negotiate with these people [Qaddafi troops] in Ajdabiya because we are almost sure that they have lost contact with their headquarters. Truthfully some of the Ajdabiya militias have asked to surrender, to be left alone and to go back home. But we cannot leave them to go without interrogation because the answers we get from them will be useful in saving lives." (Middle East Online, March 24)
In Misrata, the last western town still held by the rebels, Qaddafi's tanks again advanced on the city, after having been halted by air-strikes the day before. Witnesses reported that a neighborhood near the main hospital came under heavy artillery fire from Qaddafi forces. Snipers in the city, who apparently remained active during the supposed "ceasefire," also reportedly killed at least 16 on March 24.
Overnight, the rebel transitional council in Benghazi formed an interim government, appointing Mahmoud Jibril prime minister. Jibril, a former planning expert for the Qaddafi regime, met with President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris on March 10 when France officially recognized the opposition government. The head of the council, former justice minister, Mustapha Abdul Jalil, also remains at his post but appears to have lost a power struggle. (Euronews, Atlantic Wire, The Independent, March 24; NYT, March 23)
See our last post on Libya.