By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Libyan fighter jets were reported to have dropped bombs near a military base on the outskirts of Ajdabiya as fighting continued for control of a strategic coastal road and oil export terminals in the east of the country, the third consecutive day of such attacks.
Opposition forces, which seized control of the area from government troops last week, say the bombing raid did not cause any damage or casualties. But the air strike has raised tensions among anti-Qaddafi fighters in eastern Libya.
Government loyalists have been trying to retake territory along Libya’s coastal highway in the east — and the lucrative oil facilities there — since March 2.
But hundreds of antigovernment fighters from across eastern Libya have been arriving in and around Ajdabiya since the start of the government attacks to reinforce opposition defenses. There are estimates that about 80 percent of Libya’s oil-export facilities are now in the control of antigovernment forces.
Although the opposition has been able to ward off the government offensives in Ajdabiya and the nearby city of oil terminal at Brega, military specialists say they do not appear to have the military capabilities needed to launch their own offensive on the capital, Tripoli.
Meanwhile, at the country’s northwestern border, where an estimated 100,000 people have fled into Tunisia in the past two weeks, the UN refugee agency says pro-regime forces are now manning the Libyan side.
Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said that the flow of people crossing the border had slowed and that the agency was concerned people were being prevented from making it across.
In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama expressed concerns that a stalemate could mean that Libya is descending into a long, bloody civil war.
“There is a danger of a stalemate that, over time, could be bloody. And that is something we are obviously considering,” Obama said on March 3. “So what I want to make sure of is that the United States has full capacity to act potentially rapidly if the situation deteriorated in such a way that you had a humanitarian crisis on our hands.”
Obama also reiterated his call for Qaddafi to step down immediately from power — reminding Qaddafi’s commanders that they could face trial for “crimes against humanity” if their troops continue to attack civilians.
Uneasy In The Capital
In Tripoli today, Libyan authorities blocked foreign journalists from leaving their hotel to report on expected protests against Qaddafi’s regime after Friday prayers.
A Libyan government spokesman said about 130 journalists were being kept at the Rixos hotel because their presence could trigger violence from what he described as affiliates of Al-Qaeda.
Spokesman Mussa Ibrahim told Reuters it was necessary to prevent foreign journalists from reporting on developments in the capital “to avoid turning Tripoli into Baghdad.”
Qaddafi has previously denied that any Libyans have been involved in anti-regime demonstrations and challenged foreign journalists to show him one demonstration by Libyans against his regime. Qaddafi claims that the uprising in Libya is inspired by Al-Qaeda terrorists and is being carried out by youths who are “stoned on drugs.”
But several residents of Tripoli told foreign organizations that they planned to protest against Qaddafi again in Tripoli when they left their mosques after Friday prayers despite fears of a violent crackdown by armed pro-Qaddafi militias.
Correspondents at the Rixos hotel report hearing gunshots outside overnight. But Qaddafi’s spokesman dismissed the reports as an attempt by Al-Qaeda terrorists to disturb stability in central Tripoli.
Under Close Watch
Elsewhere in the capital, residents of two working-class neighborhoods where anti-Qaddafi protests took place a week ago say they are under constant surveillance by pro-Qaddafi fighters.
Several people in the neighborhoods of Feshloom and Tajura — speaking on condition of anonymity because they fear reprisals by Libya’s secret police — said militias loyal to Qaddafi have been using photographs taken at last week’s protest to track down young men involved.
Residents attribute many disappearances of young men from the neighborhoods to arrests by Libya’s secret police.
Qaddafi’s government has taken foreign journalists on a tour of western Libya as part of an effort to show that Qaddafi remains in control there.
Correspondents say towns and villages erupted in jubilation as their convoy passed through, with crowds of supporters shouting “God, Muammar, Libya, together.”
But signs of resistance were apparent. In several towns, buildings had been torched and many house fronts have been covered with antigovernment slogans. Roads in areas under Qaddafi’s control have been heavily fortified with army tanks, antiaircraft guns, and truck-mounted rocket launchers.
written by Ron Synovitz based on agency reports