BENGHAZI, Libya, August 4, 2011 (Reuters)
BENGHAZI, Libya, August 4, 2011 (Reuters)
Muammar Gaddafi’s son said his camp was nearing a deal with Islamists within Libya’s rebellion to isolate more liberal members of the insurgency, as a seized cargo of government-owned fuel docked in a rebel port.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi’s comments, in an interview with the New York Times, underscored attempts to exploit divisions within the rebels as they seek to recover from the killing of their military commander and push towardsTripolion three fronts.
The docking in Benghazi of the Cartagena, a tanker carrying at least 30,000 tonnes of gasoline which belongs to the Tripoli government but the rebels are reported to have seized, will boost an insurgency which has won broad international military and diplomatic backing but is struggling to oust Gaddafi.
Meanwhile, the U.N.’s peace envoy, who failed to make a break through during a visit to Libya last month, secured unspecified Chinese support for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
But there was no sign of a swift breakthrough in the see-saw conflict, now in its sixth month, which is grinding on through the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Rebels and pro-Gaddafi forces have exchanged fire in the towns of Zlitan and Brega to the east of Tripoli, and a rebel offensive in the Western Mountains appeared to have stalled.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi told the New York Times that he had made contact with Islamists among the rebels and they would issue a joint statement on their alliance to isolate or wipe out liberals within days, he said.
Gaddafi cracked down firmly on Islamists during his 41 years in power, and many Islamists have sided with more liberal, pro-Western rebels trying to oust him.
But the as-yet unexplained killing of General Abdel Fattah Younes highlighted potential divisions within the mixed bag of anti-Gaddafi forces.
“The liberals will escape or be killed,” said Saif al-Islam, once seen as a reformist and potential successor to his father.
“We will do it together …Libya will look like Saudi Arabia, like Iran. So what?” he said. “I know they are terrorists. They are bloody. They are not nice. But you have to accept them,” he added of the Islamists.
The New York Times said an Islamist rebel figure named by Gaddafi’s son as his interlocutor had confirmed the contacts but denied he had split with liberals in the rebellion.
Younes earned many enemies during years spent as Gaddafi’s security minister before siding with the rebels. These included Islamists, but he also struggled to win support from mistrustful of a man for so long at the heart of the Gaddafi apparatus.
The assassination highlighted the fragile authority the rebel leadership has over its own territory and, coupled with Gaddafi’s attempts to exploit divisions, was likely to unnerve the NATO coalition that has bombed government forces for months.
FUEL SHIP DOCKS
While there has been growing international recognition of the Benghazi-based rebel administration, which has emerged from an uprising against Gaddafi’s rule, the rebels are still struggling financially and their fighters are not as well-armed, trained or organised as Gaddafi’s.
On Thursday they secured a boost when NATO, which is enforcing an arms embargo on Libya, cleared the Cartagena, a tanker carrying enough fuel to fill nearly a million cars, to dock in Benghazi.
The shipment belongs to the Libyan government’s shipping arm but it has been blocked at sea for months, caught between NATO’s efforts to prevent Gaddafi’s forces being resupplied and reports that the captain was a rebel sympathiser.
A NATO spokesman declined to comment on a report in a petroleum industry newsletter, the Petroleum Economist, that the Cartagena was seized on Tuesday night by anti-Gaddafi rebels with the help of special forces from a European state.
MINES, AIR STRIKES
After breakneck advances and retreats over Libya’s desert terrain, fighting has slowed down in recent weeks.
Western airstrikes on Gaddafi forces have prevented the rebels being over-run in government counter-attacks, but they have not yet cleared the path for a rebel push onTripoli.
Hospital officials in Ajdabiyah said one rebel was killed and four others were wounded in clashes in Brega on Wednesday but the rebels said the frontline was quiet on Thursday as they cleared mines set by government forces.
“The mines are randomly scattered. To clear them takes time,” said rebel spokesman Ahmed Bani.
On the western side of Zlitan, a town 160 km (100 miles) east of Tripoli, pro-Gaddafi officials showed journalists the bodies of two children they said had been killed in a NATO airstrike earlier in the day.
There were no signs of military infrastructure in the area but it was impossible for journalists to confirm the reports.
In the Western Mountains, where rebels hope to capture Tiji, Gaddafi’s last stronghold in the area, a rebel advance has ground to a halt as they are short of ammunition.
A Reuters reporter said Gaddafi’s forces fired about seven rounds of heavy artillery from Tiji at rebel positions on Thursday but the rebels did not return fire.
Picture credit: Reuters