Gaddafi tanks move in again on besieged city

03:56, Mar 24 2011
A French Rafale fighter jet, with ordnance under its wings, makes its approach during the initial French attacks on Libya. On Sunday French warplanes encountered no opposition in enforcing a UN-mandated no-fly zone over Libya.
ENFORCING NO-FLY: A French Rafale fighter jet, with ordnance under its wings, makes its approach during the initial French attacks on Libya. On Sunday French warplanes encountered no opposition in enforcing a UN-mandated no-fly zone over Libya.
Relatives of a Libyan killed by forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi mourn during his funeral in Benghazi.
HUMAN TOLL: Relatives of a Libyan killed by forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi mourn during his funeral in Benghazi.
The US Defence Secretary speaks about Libya as he briefs reporters on board a military plane en route to St Petersburg, Russia.
ROBERT GATES: The US Defence Secretary speaks about Libya as he briefs reporters on board a military plane en route to St Petersburg, Russia.
Men walk along a road near to a refugee camp set up for displaced people who recently crossed over the border from Libya into Tunisia, fleeing from the unrest in the Libya, in Ras Ajdir, Tunisia, Sunday, March 20, 2011. More than 250,000 migrant workers have left Libya for neighbouring countries, primarily Tunisia and Egypt, in the past three weeks.
DISPLACED: Men walk along a road near to a refugee camp set up for displaced people who recently crossed over the border from Libya into Tunisia, fleeing from the unrest in the Libya, in Ras Ajdir, Tunisia, Sunday, March 20, 2011. More than 250,000 migrant workers have left Libya for neighbouring countries, primarily Tunisia and Egypt, in the past three weeks.
Military action in Libya
RESTING PLACE: A man pours water at the grave of a Libyan killed by forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in Benghazi.
Military action in Libya
SKY HIGH: Supporters of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi shout slogans from a wall in Bab Al- Aziziyah, Gaddafi's heavily fortified Tripoli compound.
Military action in Libya
UP IN SMOKE: Vehicles belonging to forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi explode after an air strike by coalition forces, along a road between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah.
Military action in Libya
STANDING TALL: A soldier from the Libyan army stands at Green Square in Tripoli.
Military action in Libya
CELEBRATION: A tank is destroyed in an air strike by coalition forces, along a road between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah.
DOWNED JET: Mechanical problems caused a US F-15E fighter to crash in eastern Libya, say Western forces.
DOWNED JET: Mechanical problems, not enemy action, caused a US F-15E fighter to crash in eastern Libya, say Western forces.
A Libyan rebel stands on an unidentified tank near the key city of Ajdabiya as loyalist forces have encircled the town.
DOWN THE BARREL: A Libyan rebel stands on an unidentified tank near the key city of Ajdabiya as loyalist forces have encircled the town.
A Libyan rebel fighter flashes the victory sign as he carries rocket propelled grenades at a check point near the key city of Ajdabiya.
V FOR VICTORY: A Libyan rebel fighter flashes the victory sign as he carries rocket propelled grenades at a check point near the key city of Ajdabiya.
A Libyan rebel fills a pick-up truck with shells from an unidentified tank near the key city of Ajdabiya.
SHELLING OUT: A Libyan rebel fills a pick-up truck with shells from an unidentified tank near the key city of Ajdabiya.
A Libyan army checkpoint is seen from the bus between Tripoli and Bani Walid, southeast of the capital, in a picture taken on a Government-guided tour.
CHECKPOINT: A Libyan army checkpoint is seen from the bus between Tripoli and Bani Walid, southeast of the capital, in a picture taken on a Government-guided tour.
Libyan rebel supporters sit outside rebel headquarters decorated with revolutionary graffiti in the northeastern city of Benghazi.
WRITING IS ON THE WALL: Libyan rebel supporters sit outside rebel headquarters decorated with revolutionary graffiti in the northeastern city of Benghazi.
A Rafale fighter jet makes a catapult launch from France's flagship Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier. The carrier, carrying a crew of around 100 and some 20 aircraft, is accompanied by an attack submarine, several frigates and a refuelling ship defence officials have said.
UP, UP AND AWAY: A Rafale fighter jet makes a catapult launch from France's flagship Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier. The carrier, carrying a crew of around 100 and some 20 aircraft, is accompanied by an attack submarine, several frigates and a refuelling ship defence officials have said.
A view of a naval military facility damaged by coalition air strikes in eastern Tripoli. Picture taken on a Government-guided tour.
IN RUINS: A view of a naval military facility damaged by coalition air strikes in eastern Tripoli. Picture taken on a Government-guided tour.
Libya
TAKING OFF: A Mirage 2000-5 jet fighter takes off at the aerial military base 126 - Capitaine Preziosi in Solenzara, Corsica, the French Mediterranean island for a mission in Libya.
Libya military action
READY: Rebel fighters walk holding weapons along the Benghazi -Ajdabiyah road near Ajdabiyah.
Libya military action
COVER: Rebel fighters take cover during a shelling along Benghazi -Ajdabiyah road near Ajdabiyah.
Libya military action
PREPARED: French Navy flight deck crew members prepare Rafale fighter jets aboard France's flagship Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier.
Libya military action
PICTURE TAKEN ON GUIDED TOUR: Relatives of Fethi Boubaker, who the Libyan Warfallah tribe loyal to Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi say was killed during coalition air strikes, shout slogans whilst holding up a poster of Gaddafi.
Libya military action
PRAYING: Libyan rebels pray while preparing for battle against government forces.
Libya military action
RUN: Libyan rebels run to cover as a tank shell of government forces explodes.
Rebels travel in a convoy on their way to Sirte city near Bin Jawad.
Rebels travel in a convoy on their way to Sirte city near Bin Jawad.
Libyan rebels gather near Nofilia, 100km from Sirte.
Libyan rebels gather near Nofilia, 100km from Sirte.
Smoke billows as seven explosions rocked the Libyan capital Tripoli, some in the vicinity of the tightly-guarded residence of leader Muammar Gaddafi and military targets.
Smoke billows as seven explosions rocked the Libyan capital Tripoli, some in the vicinity of the tightly-guarded residence of leader Muammar Gaddafi and military targets.
Libyan rebels return from the battle field outside the oil rich town of Ras Lanuf.
Libyan rebels return from the battle field outside the oil rich town of Ras Lanuf.
A Libyan child sits playing on the canon of a destroyed tank in the strategic oil town of Ajdabiya east of Tripoli.
A Libyan child sits playing on the canon of a destroyed tank in the strategic oil town of Ajdabiya east of Tripoli.
A Libyan rebel shoots an anti-aircraft machine gun in Ajdabiya.
A Libyan rebel shoots an anti-aircraft machine gun in Ajdabiya.
RETREAT: Libyan rebels drive back to Bin Jawad.
RETREAT: Libyan rebels drive back to Bin Jawad.
Libya conflict
CHILDREN: Hasan, 11, son of a rebel fighter holds a weapon near the front line along the western entrance gate of Ajdabiyah.
Libya conflict
TARGET: A still image taken from an undated video shows smoke billowing from a Libyan tank after it was hit by a missile fired by a NATO Tornado fighter jet in Libya.
Libya conflict
RECOVERY: Rebel fighters attempt to salvage a heavy machine gun mounted on the back of a burning vehicle used by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi after it was hit by a NATO airstrike on the eastern outskirts of Brega.
Libya conflict
PRAY: Libyan rebel fighters make noon prayers near a previously destroyed pro-Gadhafi forces tank.
Libya conflict
GOD IS GREAT: A Libyan rebel fighter makes the Arabic words for "God is Great" out of used bullet casings on the road leading to the front line, on the outskirts of Ajdabiya, Libya.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces have resumed their attack on the rebel-held town of Misrata, moving back onto the offensive just hours after Western strikes silenced their guns.

While initial Western airstrikes hit Libyan air defences and an armoured column in the east, Gaddafi's tanks kept up their shelling of Misrata in the west, killing dozens there this week.

Residents said a "massacre" was taking place with tank and artillery fire destroying buildings and snipers picking off people indiscriminately. Doctors were operating in hospital corridors and having to turn some of the wounded away.

The US military said it had successfully established a no-fly zone over Libya's coastal areas and had moved on to attack Gaddafi's tanks. Western planes launched a series of air strikes near Misrata and stopped the tank and artillery fire.

But as darkness cloaked the city, Libya's third largest, Gaddafi's tanks began to roll once again.

"Government tanks are closing in on Misrata hospital and shelling the area," said the doctor who was briefly reached by phone before the line was cut off.

A rebel spokesman said 16 people had been killed in Misrata and another six in attacks on Zintan, another rebel-held town in west Libya. It was impossible to independently verify the reports.

During the day, while the tanks and artillery fell silent, the government air strikes did not stop the snipers in Misrata.

"The snipers are ... shooting at the hospital and its two entrances are under heavy attack. No one can get in or out," Saadoun, a Misrata resident, told Reuters by telephone.

TRIPOLI HIT

While the fighting raged, Nato again failed to agree after a third day of negotiations to take over command of the military operations from the United States, chiefly because of objections from Turkey, diplomats said.

Gaddafi called Western powers carrying out air strikes "a bunch of fascists who will end up in the dustbin of history."

"We will not surrender," he told supporters forming a human shield to protect him at his Tripoli home which came under US attack in 1986 and once again in the current round of air raids.

Eight explosions were heard in the east of Tripoli on Wednesday evening and smoke was seen rising into the night sky, local residents told Reuters.

"We heard four explosions, then after five minutes we heard four more," said a resident in the eastern Tajoura district. "We saw smoke and fire afterwards."Several distant thuds were heard by Reuters reporters in central Tripoli.

Libyan state television said Western planes had hit military and civilian targets in Tripoli without giving further details.

Libyan government officials have accused Western powers of killing dozens of civilians, but have not shown reporters in the capital any evidence of such deaths. US military officials denied any civilians had been killed in airstrikes.

"There have been no reports of civilian casualties. Our mission here is to protect the civilian populace and we choose our targets and plan our actions with that as a top priority," Rear Admiral Gerard Hueber told reporters by phone from the command ship USS Mount Whitney in the Mediterranean.

The allies had flown 175 sorties in the last 24 hours, with the US flying 113 of those, he said.

The Libyan government denies its army is conducting any offensive operations and says troops are only defending themselves when they come under attack. A resident in Zintan said Gaddafi forces were bringing in reinforcements.

"Gaddafi's brigades started bombardment from the northern area half an hour ago. The bombardment is taking place now. The town is completely surrounded. The situation is very bad," the resident, Abdulrahman, told Reuters by telephone from the town.

"They are getting reinforcements. Troops backed with tanks and vehicles are coming. We appeal to the allied forces to come and protect civilians," he said.

NATO DISCORD

The White House said it wants to give up its lead role in Libya in a "matter of days" and wants the alliance to play an important role in the command of the operation, though the exact structure of its role was still under discussion.

"I think this is going to be a matter of days in which you see a movement toward the transition with regard to command and control," a top aide to President Barack Obama told reporters.

Washington, London and Paris agreed on Tuesday that the alliance should play a key operational role, but the assent of all 28 Nato states is needed and they have also been split over whether Nato should exercise political control.

Objections from Muslim Nato member Turkey have held up agreement on the alliance's role for three days and a fourth day of talks is due on Thursday.

Turkey said it did not want Nato to take responsibility for offensive operations that could cause civilian casualties or be in charge of enforcing a UN-mandated no-fly zone while coalition aircraft were simultaneously bombing Libyan forces.

France wants an ad hoc steering group of coalition members, including the Arab League, to exercise political control. The group is to meet in London next Tuesday, Britain said.

REBELS FIGHT TO BREAK IMPASSE

In the east of this oil-producing north African desert state, disorganised and badly equipped rebels fighting to end Gaddafi's 41-year rule have failed to capitalize on foreign air strikes and have been pinned down outside Ajdabiyah, 150km west of Benghazi.

Rebels were clashing with the army inside Ajdabiyah, rebel fighters said on Wednesday, and residents were fleeing.

Fighters said some groups had made covert forays into the town through the desert but that tanks at the town entrance had kept their main force at bay.

"We went into Ajdabiyah yesterday (Tuesday) at 2pm. It's not Ajdabiyah any more," said rebel fighter Faraj Ali, in his machinegun-mounted truck. "It's dead, destroyed, a ghost town."

A family leaving Ajdabiyah said a fraction of the residents remained. "I saw bodies in the streets, and buried and washed some myself as they're rotting in the morgue. There's not been electricity for a week," said one man, declining to be named.

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Reuters