Witnesses say Libyan warplanes launched new air strikes Thursday against the key eastern oil port of Brega, a day after rebels drove forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi from the city.
Opposition forces repelled powerful ground and air assaults Wednesday as Gadhafi loyalists launched their first offensive against opposition-controlled eastern Libya.
Witnesses said pro-Gadhafi forces in a convoy of more than 50 armed vehicles stormed Brega, which lies on the Gulf of Sirte about 800 kilometers east of the capital, Tripoli. They quickly seized the city’s oil installations, airport and port facilities.
News of the attack galvanized citizen militias in the nearby cities of Ajdabiya and Benghazi, who raced to the front lines armed with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and aging anti-tank weapons.
Opposition forces counterattacked by midafternoon, driving Gadhafi loyalists from the city. Doctors reported at least 12 dead in the fighting. During the clashes, fighter jets also launched air strikes against anti-regime forces in Brega and on the outskirts of Ajdabiya, home to a large rebel-controlled arms depot.
The fight for Brega came as a self-declared “interim governing council” called for air strikes by outside powers against non-Libyan African mercenaries that rebel leaders say Gadhafi has used in his militias to put down the rebellion.
The Associated Press reported that the council formed Wednesday in the opposition stronghold of Benghazi. It reportedly named Gadhafi’s former justice minister, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, as its head. Abdul Hafiz Gogha. a spokesman for the council, said the body also wants foreign governments to deal only with Libyan embassies that have sided with the resistance.
Gadhafi delivered a rambling and defiant three-hour address on state television Wednesday, warning that thousands of Libyans would die if foreign forces intervene in the conflict. He called the rebels holding some cities “terrorists” and said loyalist forces would “fight to the last drop of Libyan blood.”
The beleaguered strongman, speaking to an audience that included dozens of his core supporters, ambassadors and foreign media, also offered concessions, including a blanket amnesty to rebels if they laid down their weapons.
Protesters in Benghazi called for Gadhafi’s resignation. They chanted anti-Gadhafi slogans as they burned copies of the Libyan leader’s “Green Book.” Libya has no formal constitution but Gadhafi often refers to the publication, which outlines his political and economic philosophy for the country.
In Tripoli, witnesses said pro-Gadhafi militiamen launched a wave of raids Wednesday to snatch people who participated in anti-government protests during the past week after identifying them in photos and video. One resident said dozens were arrested from their homes in dawn raids in the restive neighborhood of Tajoura.