By Elizabeth Arrott
The Libyan military has stepped up airstrikes on rebel-held Ras Lanouf, as it seeks to stop the westward advance of rebel forces. With the counteroffensive underway, Libya’s opposition national council says it is rejecting overtures of talks with the government.
Media reports say the Libyan government denied reaching out to rebels, who want the international community to recognize them as the legitimate leaders of the nation.
The opposition dismisses the idea of talks with the government of Moammar Gadhafi, whose planes continued their attacks Tuesday.
A spokesman for the rebel national council, Mustafa Gheriani, says the offer is just a tactic.
“This guy never delivered on any promise in 42 years,” said Gheriani. “What makes you think he’s going to deliver on anything today?”
Instead, the self-styled provisional government in Benghazi is hoping other nations will recognize it as the best bet to lead Libya into the future. Gheriani confirms the council has met with an Italian delegation and is now awaiting word from the Italian government.
He adds that he hopes Britain will also try to establish ties, but not repeat the botched effort that saw British officials detained by opposition forces in eastern Libya in recent days.
“Unfortunately the British did not come in a legitimate way but nevertheless we see it as a positive, at least not in a sense that we want to negotiate with them, because they came illegally, but at least there is a good faith effort from the British government,” said Gheriani.
In the immediate future, he says, the most pressing need is for the international community to establish a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent additional attacks by the Libyan air force. The idea is meeting with some hesitation on the part of the United States, but received additional backing Tuesday from the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Rebels have been trying to fend off the strikes around the oil refinery at Ras Lanouf, now in opposition hands, with anti-aircraft guns. Despite the slim resistance those weapons offer, pro-Gadhafi forces have yet to strike the facility.
“The reason he did not bomb the oil facility is he still has hope that he may rule the country,” Gheriani explained. “Otherwise he would have bombed them already. And that is why it’s very important and urgent on a humanitarian scale and an economic scale to put a no fly zone on this guy.”
The Gadhafi government is also appealing to the international community, repeating its call for United Nations’ observers to come to Libya to render judgment on the situation. The U.N. began considering a war crimes investigation of actions by the Libyan government just days into the uprising.