Tag Archive: BEN HUBBARD


More shelling in rebel-held city in western Libyan

Libyan rebel fighters load a truck with ammunition on the outskirts of Ajdabiya, Libya, Saturday, April 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110416/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_libya

By SEBASTIAN ABBOT, Associated Press Sebastian Abbot, Associated Press 1 hr 42 mins ago

AJDABIYA, Libya – Moammar Gadhafi’s forces poured rocket fire after dawn Saturday into Misrata, the only western city still in rebel hands, and weary residents who have endured more than a month of fighting angrily lashed out at NATO for failing to halt the deadly assault.

Five civilians were killed in a 30-minute barrage of shelling that heavily damaged a factory for dairy products and sent up a thick column of black smoke, a doctor said. A human rights group has accused the Gadhafi regime of using cluster bombs in Misrata — munitions that can cause indiscriminate casualties and have been banned by most countries. The Libyan government and military denied the charge.

In eastern Libya, fierce fighting left seven rebels dead, 27 wounded and four missing as the anti-Gadhafi forces sought to push toward the strategic oil town of Brega, according to Mohammed Idris, a hospital supervisor in the nearby city of Ajdabiya. The battle took place on a road halfway between Ajdabiya and Brega.

Frustration was growing among residents in Misrata, where Gadhafi’s troops have intensified their long siege of the city in recent days. The doctor sharply criticized NATO for failing to break the assault with its month-old campaign of airstrikes.

“We have not seen any protection of civilians,” the doctor said. “NATO airstrikes are not enough, and the proof is that there are civilians killed every day here,” he said.

The theme was echoed in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, where spokesman Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga told a news conference: “There’s no more room for hesitation or for not standing with determination against what is happening in Misrata and other Libyan cities, because the destruction that Moammar Gadhafi is causing in Libyan cities is great and extensive.”

Rebel fighters in eastern Libya were less critical of NATO. Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the rebels’ National Transitional Council, said this week that without the airstrikes, even Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city and the rebels’ main stronghold, would be in “complete danger.”

The Misrata doctor said Gadhafi’s forces are taking shelter in residential areas that civilians had fled, apparently confident that NATO won’t risk attacking them there.

But the troops have so far been unable to fully occupy the city of 300,000 people, he said, so instead they are targeting sites such as the dairy plant or the port to prevent the arrival of humanitarian aid.

The doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared government retribution, said a civilian who was brought to him had been nearly torn in half by a mortar shell and was not expected to live.

NATO officials have said it is difficult to strike Gadhafi’s forces when in an urban area. NATO did say its strikes on Friday destroyed two tanks in the Misrata area.

At a news conference Saturday night in Tripoli, Maj. Gen. Saleh Abdullah Ibrahim denied that the Libyan military is using heavy weapons in Misrata.

When asked whether the NATO airstrikes have had an impact on the Libyan forces, he said he did not know.

“I am a member of the regular armed forces. This type of information is only in the higher ranks of the armed forces,” he said.

Ibrahim confirmed that prisoners had been taken, but would not say how many.

Rebels in Misrata and the New York-based group Human Rights Watch have alleged that Gadhafi’s forces have been using cluster bombs, which pose particular risk to civilians because they scatter small bomblets over a wide area. Most of the world’s nations have banned the use of the munitions.

Human Rights Watch said its researchers inspected remnants of the weapons found in a Misrata neighborhood and interviewed witnesses.

Ibrahim said the accusations were “unfounded,” adding that Libya did not have “these kinds of weapons in our depot, and no single Libyan has been trained on this.”

“We are calling for those who show these kinds of weapons to give us the material evidence,” he said.

A boat chartered by Doctors Without Borders and carrying 95 Libyans from Misrata — 65 of them injured — arrived Saturday at the Tunisian port of Zarzis, according to the official TAP news agency. Nine people who were critically or seriously injured were taken to a hospital in the town of Sfax.

A lack of medicine, food and water for the 6,000-10,000 people in migrant workers’ camps around Misrata has led to a “catastrophic” situation that is deteriorating daily, said Dr. Helmi Makkaoui, a Tunisian coordinator for the humanitarian aid group.

Rebels in eastern Libya held their positions for four days around the city of Ajdabiya, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) to the east, allowing NATO airstrikes to weaken government forces, said Col. Hamid Hassy.

On Friday, the fighters pushed in to reach Brega’s university campus, just outside the town’s oil port, Hassy said. He added that if the rebels retake Brega, they will bring in engineers to repair any damage to the refinery and oil facilities there.

Brega has already changed hands half a dozen times since fighting began in early March. Explosions that appeared to be from new airstrikes could still be heard Saturday in the area.

Despite the strikes, the rebels ran into staunch resistance Saturday. Three of the seven rebels killed were in a car that was struck by either a rocket or artillery shell near a gas station on the road about 24 miles (40 kilometers) from either city, said fighter Ahmed Bakir.

Ambulances streamed to an Ajdabiya hospital, where doctors treated fighters with severe burns or shrapnel wounds. Bloodstained bandages littered the area outside the hospital and workers hosed down a bloody stretcher.

The latest fighting in Brega pushed the rebels back to the town’s outskirts, said Suleiman Mohammed Suleiman, one of the opposition fighters who was shot in the leg while firing a heavy machine gun from the back of a pickup truck outside Brega.

Suleiman said the rebels could see Brega but were not yet inside.

The NATO-led air campaign has kept rebels from being defeated on the battlefield by the better trained and equipped government forces, but it still has not been enough to completely turn the tide. The rebels have been unable to reach Gadhafi’s heavily defended hometown of Sirte, the gateway to the regime-controlled western half of the country.

Previous rebel advances through Brega and its companion oil center of Ras Lanouf, another 60 miles (100 kilometers) farther on, have ultimately foundered as rebels overextended their supply lines and were routed by the heavier firepower and more sophisticated tactics of the government forces.

In contrast those previous charges and retreats in the past six weeks, the rebels appear to be trying a more gradual advance that might actually result in them holding territory.

At a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin, the United States and its allies put up a united front on the goals of the alliance’s stalemated military mission in Libya, yet failed to resolve behind-the-scenes squabbling over how to achieve them.

NATO members agreed on paper that Gadhafi had to go to end the crisis, they also made clear that they would not be the ones to oust him.

___

Associated Press writers Karin Laub in Tripoli, Libya; Ben Hubbard in Benghazi, Libya; and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report from Cairo.

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By DIAA HADID and HADEEL AL-SHALCHI, Associated Press Diaa Hadid And Hadeel Al-shalchi, Associated Press Thu Apr 7, 7:54 am ET

TRIPOLI, Libya – Hala Misrati once wrote romance tales about lost love. Now she’s the ferocious face of Libya’s regime, a star talk-show host on state TV lashing out daily against Moammar Gadhafi’s enemies.

She railed against a Libyan woman who claimed to Western journalists she had been raped by Gadhafi militiamen, calling her a “liar” and suggesting she was a “whore.” On live TV, Misrati grilled an arrested journalist for an hour with all the doggedness of a secret police interrogator.

“Say the things that you said in your recordings!” she barked at the journalist, Rana al-Aqbani, apparently referring to taped recordings of al-Aqbani’s phone calls, as she tried to make her acknowledge that she sought Gadhafi’s ouster. Al-Aqbani, a Tripoli-based journalist, has since disappeared.

With her attack-dog demeanor, Misrati stands out even in the field of presenters of state-run news channels throughout Arab countries, whose autopilot response has been to denounce protesters in the anti-government uprisings around the Middle East.

“She’s clearly a very strong mouthpiece for the pro-Gadhafi forces,” said Dina Eltahawy, a researcher for Amnesty International, which has issued an urgent alert to try find al-Aqbani.

Misrati appears daily on her hour-long call-in show, “Libya on This Day” on the state-run satellite channel, Al-Jamahiriya 2.

In her 30s, with long dark hair, heavy makeup and often decked out in gaudy outfits, she often gives long monologues crusading against Libya’s rebels, the NATO-led alliance bombing Gadhafi troops from the air and anyone perceived of sympathizing with them or fueling the campaign against Gadhafi. That includes Western media and, particularly, the Arab news channel Al-Jazeera, which she refers to as “the pig channel” in a rhyming play on words — the Arabic word for pig is “khanzeera.”

Libya’s crisis has made her a star — beloved by Gadhafi supporters and viewed with a mix of loathing and bemused fascination by the opposition.

Miriam al-Amani, a 23-year-old student in Benghazi, the de facto rebel capital in eastern Libya, called Misrati “a clown.”

She said Misrati was not well known before, but her new incarnation since the uprising made her famous. “Now she’s well known. Everyone in Libya knows who she is,” al-Amani said with a laugh. “She lies so badly that nobody believes what she says,” added al-Amani, who studies medicine at Benghazi’s Garyounis University.

In contrast, an upper-class woman having tea with friends at a five-star hotel in the capital Tripoli was full of praise for Misrati.

“Libya runs through her veins,” said the woman, a Gadhafi supporter. “She is bold. She has been able to show the truth in Benghazi and tell us what it’s really like over there, no one else was brave enough to tell it how it is.” The woman spoke on condition of anonymity because her husband holds a job in the state.

In one show, Misrati blasted Libya’s U.N. ambassador, Mohamed Shalgham, who turned against Gadhafi, calling him “ignorant” and “an idiot” and saying “he is good for nothing but barking like a dog.”

In another, she said the prominent Qatar-based Muslim cleric Youssef al-Qaradawi was “the devil” after he criticized Misrati. “Al-Qaradawi is too stupid to judge me or (Libya’s) press,” she coolly said.

Her fiercest diatribe came against Iman al-Obeidi, a Libyan woman who last month burst into a Tripoli hotel where Western journalists are staying and told them she had been gang-raped by troops before security officials dragged her out.

“Iman, in the end, is a liar,” Misrati said in a 10-minute rant, accusing al-Obeidi of pulling a media stunt. She dismissed her claims, saying no Arab woman would bring shame on her family by publicly admitting to rape. She told viewers that it was rebels who were raping women in the eastern territories they control. Misrati urged al-Obeidi to come clean with the truth because her claims were fueling the “bombardment” of Libya.

“Even sometimes a whore has nationalism toward her homeland, when she knows her homeland is in danger!” Misrati sneered. “Even a whore!”

Misrati has since vowed to “uncover” al-Obeidi’s real life.

She aired footage of a later attempt to interview al-Obeidi. Misrati’s film crew taunts the woman, who is seen curled up on the ground and refuses to be interviewed. It ends suddenly with Misrati screaming at al-Obeidi, “You and your kind have frittered away this country!”

Days later, Misrati conducted an interrogation on live television of al-Aqbani, a Syrian-Libyan journalist who the rights group Amnesty International said was snatched from her Tripoli home along with her brother by plainclothes gunmen on March 28.

Misrati accused her of helping prompt the international air campaign with her reports. As the defiant al-Aqbani tried to explain herself, Misrati interjected, “Sometimes a person lives in a fantasy … But when you take fantasy outside (your head), without realizing, you pass on rumors and mistakes, and we pay the price of those mistakes under shelling.”

Misrati later reassured her viewers that al-Aqbani wont be put to death. “She and her friends are not the head of the snake. Maybe the tail.”

Eltahawy of Amnesty International said the whereabouts of al-Aqbani and her brother remains unknown.

Opponents relish in posting YouTube videos of her bloopers. In one famous misstep, she insisted that Muslims could not accept the U.N.’s move to “adopt” the resolution authorizing airstrikes over Libya, because Islam bans adoption — of children.

Misrati’s launch as a fierce defender of Gadhafi’s regime is all the more striking considering her past. In 2009, she was pulled off air during a live interview and interrogated by security officers, according to a report on the incident by the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli released on the WikiLeaks site.

Misrati was interviewing Mustafa Zaidi, a senior member of the Revolutionary committees, a quasi-pro-Gadhafi paramilitary group. Although Misrati “downplayed” the incident, she “criticized the strictures placed on journalists in Libya by reactionary regime figures,” according to the embassy report.

She began on TV only three years ago, according to her Internet resume.

Before that, she was an aspiring writer. She published a collection of short stories in 2007, “The Moon Has Another Face.” A review by an Internet magazine Middle-East-Online praises the collection for Misrati’s “humane honesty” and describes the woman who “is angry like a child about the lies of others.”

Her lengthy blog — untouched since December — is a mix of personal reflections, essays about the Internet (with a law degree, she is a self-professed expert on cyber law) and short stories on lost love.

“I watched the movement of the clouds, with the sun hiding ominously behind them, annihilating the heavy rain,” one of her stories begins, before tumbling into a tale of a woman disappointed in marriage.

The title of a series of entries on her blog even holds a bit of philosophy about how changeable life can be — like her surprising leap from writer to regime celebrity.

“Between today and tomorrow is chaos,” it reads.

________

Hadid reported from Cairo. AP correspondent Ben Hubbard in Benghazi contributed to this report.

Libyan opposition sets conditions for cease-fire

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110401/ap_on_bi_ge/af_libya

By BEN HUBBARD and RYAN LUCAS, Associated Press Ben Hubbard And Ryan Lucas, Associated Press 15 mins ago

BENGHAZI, Libya – Libya’s rebels will agree to a cease-fire if Moammar Gadhafi pulls his military forces out of cities and allows peaceful protests against his regime, an opposition leader said Friday as rebels showed signs that their front-line organization is improving.

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the opposition’s interim governing council based in Benghazi, spoke during a joint press conference with U.N. envoy Abdelilah Al-Khatib. After meeting government officials in Thursday, Al-Khatib was visiting the rebels’ de facto stronghold of Benghazi in hopes of reaching a political solution to the crisis embroiling the North African nation.

Abdul-Jalil said the rebels’ condition for a cease-fire is “that the Gadhafi brigades and forces withdraw from inside and outside Libyan cities to give freedom to the Libyan people to choose and the world will see that they will choose freedom.”

The U.N. resolution that authorized international airstrikes against Libya called for Gadhafi and the rebels to end hostilities. Gadhafi announced a cease-fire immediately but has shown no sign of heeding it. His forces continue to attack rebels in the east, where the opposition in strongest, and have besieged the only major rebel-held city in the west, Misrata.

The city has been shelled by tanks and artillery for days, said a doctor in a Misrata hospital who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals. Many people have been killed, including eight since Thursday, he said. He said Gadhafi brigades control the port and a main street, but rebels control the heart of the city.

Abdul-Jalil said the regime must withdraw its forces and lift all sieges.

He stressed the ultimate goal was Gadhafi’s ouster.

“Our aim is to liberate and have sovereignty over all of Libya with its capital in Tripoli,” he said.

Click image to see photos of protests in Libya

The U.N. said Al-Khatib arrived Thursday in Tripoli.

Forces loyal to Libya’s leader of nearly 42 years spent much of this week pushing the rebels back about 100 miles (160 kilometers) along the coast. On Friday, the opposition showed signs of gaining discipline on what has often been a disorganized battlefield.

Fighters said fresh forces were coming in, mostly ex-military, but also volunteers with not quite a month of training. The rebels also appeared to have more communication equipment such as radios and satellite phones, and were working in more organized units, in which military defectors were each leading six or seven volunteers.

The untrained masses who have rushed in and out of the fight for weeks with no apparent organization were barred from the front line. They stayed to the rear, to hold the line temporarily in case Gadhafi’s forces attempt to flank the rebels.

“The problem with the young untrained guys is they’ll weaken us at the front, so we’re trying to use them as a backup force,” said Mohammed Majah, 33, a former sergeant. “They have great enthusiasm, but that’s not enough now.”

Majah said the only people at the front now are former soldiers, “experienced guys who have been in reserves, and about 20 percent are young revolutionaries who have been in training and are in organized units.”

The rebels also had mortars Friday, weapons they previously appeared to have lacked, and on Thursday night they drove in a convoy with at least eight rocket launchers — more artillery than usual.

The rebels’ losses this week, and others before airstrikes began March 19, underlined that their equipment, training and organization were far inferior to those of Gadhafi’s forces. The recent changes appear to be an attempt to correct, or at least ease, the imbalance.

It was not immediately clear where the front line was on Friday. On Thursday, the opposition had moved into Brega, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Ajdabiya, before Gadhafi’s forces pushed them out.

Gadhafi’s greatest losses this week were not military but political. Two members of his inner circle, including his foreign minister, abandoned him Wednesday and Thursday, setting off speculation about other officials who may be next. The defections could sway people who have stuck with Gadhafi despite the uprising that began Feb. 15 and the international airstrikes aimed at keeping the autocrat from attacking his own people.

Libyan state TV aired a phone interview with intelligence chief Bouzeid Dorda to knock down rumors that he also left Gadhafi.

“I am in Libya and will remain here steadfast in the same camp of the revolution despite everything,” Dorda said. “I never thought to cross the borders or violate commitment to the people, the revolution and the leader.”

Gadhafi struck a defiant stance in a statement Thursday, saying he’s not the one who should go — it’s the Western leaders who attacking his military with airstrikes who should resign immediately. Gadhafi’s message was undercut by its delivery — a scroll across the bottom of state TV as he remained out of sight.

The White House said the strongman’s inner circle was clearly crumbling with the loss of Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, who flew from Tunisia to England on Wednesday. Koussa is privy to all the inner workings of the regime, so his departure could open the door for some hard intelligence, though Britain refused to offer him immunity from prosecution.

Ali Abdessalam Treki, a former foreign minister and U.N. General Assembly president, announced his departure on several opposition websites the next day, saying “It is our nation’s right to live in freedom and democracy and enjoy a good life.”

Gadhafi accused the leaders of the countries attacking his forces of being “affected by power madness.”

“The solution for this problem is that they resign immediately and their peoples find alternatives to them,” the Libya state news agency quoted him as saying.

___

Lucas reported from Ajdabiya, Libya. Hadeel Al-Shalchi in Tripoli and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report.

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