Libya: Rebels Begin To Squeeze Tripoli

[Ed. Note: This post has been continued and updated, from earliest to most recent, here and here.

Previous updates, from earliest to most recent, are here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

For still more news, commentaries, analyses, maps, photographs and videos, click here.]

February 23, 2011: Areas of Conflict (click to enlarge)

Wikipedia entries for Libya’s historic periods. The total absence of any experience in self government is notable.

UPDATE 22:38 GMT: Al Jazeera has reported that tribes in the Azzintan and Nalut areas in west Libya have come out against Gaddafi with oil facilities in the area now “under their protection.”

UPDATE 22:20 GMT: In fairness to Obama, the EU states and everyone else, this is not our fight or the fight of anyone else. This is for the Libyans to sort out amongst themselves. Especially when it is so unclear – or unknown, as mentioned earlier – what each of the factions want, the sad but essential reality is that the governments of the world have an obligation to 1. evacuate their own citizens and 2. provide refugee and humanitarian assistance where it is safe to do so.

UPDATE 22:11 GMT: Obama on TV: “Doing everything we can to protect our American citizens.” “Condemn violence…violence must stop.” “Support universal rights of Libyan people.” “Libya has a responsibility to allow humanitarian assistance to reach its people.” Blah, blah, blah…ordered diplomats to talk some more and then hold a press conference to talk about what they talked about…blah, blah, blah. His instincts clearly pull him to be as insistent on human rights as Jimmy Carter was but US history, unfortunately, waves a big caution flag for modern presidents who want to follow their heart.

UPDATE 22:06 GMT: Associated Press: “The scope of Muammar Gaddafi’s control in Libya was whittled away Wednesday as major cities and towns closer to the capital fell to the rebellion against his rule. In Libya’s east, now all but broken away, the opposition vowed to ‘liberate’ Tripoli, where the Libyan leader is holed up with a force of militiamen roaming the streets.”


UPDATE 22:04 GMT: CNN just reported that residents in Tripoli are describing the city as desolate, with the only things in the streets being “blood, bodies and burnt cars.”

UPDATE 21:52 GMT: Waiting for Obama to address the situation in Libya. I don’t know why everyone’s waiting. Everyone knows he going to parrot the standard “deplore the violence” line that every Western leader says when a dictator is faced with an uprising. The two issues for the US, of course, are, 1. other than platitudes, there’s not much we can do – it’s not America’s fight, and 2. No one in the US or anywhere else knows what it is that the Libyans want once Gaddafi is gone – even the Libyans don’t know. But succeeding in dethroning Gaddafi is not an end, it is a means to an end – but what is that end? Even without clear leadership, the Egyptians spoke of having a degree of shared control over their government, some accountability. Other that ending Gaddafi’s reign, the anti-Gaddafi forces have yet to identified any sort of an end goal.

UPDATE 21:29 GMT: Another of Gaddafi’s sons, Saadi al-Gaddafi, has told the Financial Times that his brother, Saif, is working on a new constitution for Libya.

UPDATE 21:09 GMT: The Guardian is reporting that it spoke with a Libyan air force officer, Major Rajib Faytouni, who said he personally witnessed up to 4,000 mercenaries arrive on Libyan transport planes over a period of three days starting from 14 February. He said: “That’s why we turned against the government. That and the fact there was an order to use planes to attack the people.”

Numerous witnesses in Benghazi have said that while artillery was used against citizens, air force planes did not fire on them here. They did, however, according to Faytouni, drop two bombs inside the Rajma military base to stop weapons falling into the hands of anti-government forces.

UPDATE 20:59 GMT: Gaddafi’s son just appeared on state TV and said life is “normal” in Libya’s western regions: “The ports, schools and airports are all open. The problem lies in the eastern regions.”

UPDATE 20:36 GMT: Posts like this one are why we love the BBC: “More bad news for the Gaddafi family: the colonel’s daughter Aisha has been axed as a UN goodwill ambassador.”

UPDATE 20:14 GMT: Just added the map above, showing today’s locations of conflict. The map showing today’s areas of control has been moved below.

UPDATE 19:57 GMT: BBC’s current recap: Sporadic reports of fighting in and around Tripoli have trickled in throughout the day. A BBC reporter in the east of the country says the whole area appears to be under the control of anti-Gaddafi forces – a mixture of defecting soldiers and local militias. In the west, the picture is less clear, with pro-Gaddafi forces in control of border posts and checkpoints, but apparently losing control of some towns and cities.

UPDATE 19:25 GMT: Witnesses in Tajoora are saying 15 tanks followed by mercenaries are heading towards Tripoli, according to anti-Gaddafi forces.

Video said to be of Libyan troops executed for not firing on protesters (claim cannot be verified)
Vodpod videos no longer available.

UPDATE 19:23 GMT: A commentary piece [abridged for this post] from the Council on Foreign Relations:

If Egypt’s uprising represents the best of the turmoil sweeping the Middle East, then Gaddafi’s brutal effort to stay in power in Libya represents its worst. Nobody will mistake Libya’s bloody handling of its uprising for the relatively peaceful overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime in neighboring Egypt or Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s in Tunisia. Absent from Libya are any of the restraining influences that convinced Mubarak and Ben Ali to step down from power: Libya has no institutions or political parties that stand to restrain its leader’s whims. Whereas the military in Egypt retained its legitimacy by peacefully siding with the protestors and edging Mubarak out, in Libya fighter aircraft are strafing its citizens in the capital in an effort to suppress the popular uprising.

Absent from Libya today are the elements that would allow for a smooth and peaceful transition of power. Libya today faces a dark future in the short term. While Qaddafi’s departure from the scene would be mourned by few, it would also create an enormous power vacuum. Entirely unclear is what glue will hold together this largely decentralized country, in which nationalist identification is low, and tribal and clan affinity paramount. Unlike in neighboring Egypt, the military lacks the cohesion or unity needed to hold together the country.

Despite Qaddafi’s heavy hand and relative success at keeping Libyans cut off from the rest of the world, the unrest ravaging his country shows that the forces unleashed in the Middle East are well beyond his control. No state, however powerful its security organs, should now consider themselves immune. Regional dictators who have brutally repressed their people to maintain control may also soon be at risk. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad comes to mind.

The complete, unabridged, article is here.

UPDATE 19:06 GMT: Turkey has 25,000 nationals in Libya and the country is launching the biggest evacuation operation in its history, according to AJE.

February 23, 2011: Areas of Control (click to enlarge)

UPDATE 18:38 GMT: Israeli PM Netanyahu: “Because of the current violence in Libya I received a personal request from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas… that Israel allow a number of Palestinians to leave Libya and to enter the Palestinian territories… so Israel will enable 300 Palestinians to enter the Palestinian areas.” [Ed. Note: Adding, once the microphones were off, “…where they will be kept in a cage until the crisis subsides.” Ya know, the whole world is evacuating its people from Libya, and Abbas has to beg Bibi to so a few Palestinians can get to safety.]

UPDATE 18:36 GMT: Al Jazeera is reporting that a source in east Tripoli is saying there are plain clothed men with swords in the streets.

UPDATE 18:33 GMT: BBC reports multiple “strong” eyewitness testimonies that there are four military frigates in Tripoli ports. The fear is that they are on standby to fire on the capital.

UPDATE 18:30 GMT: Oil prices have hit $100 per-barrel today.

UPDATE 18:26 GMT: Eyewitness are telling BBC Arabic that Tripoli “is ghost town, African mercenaries roaming streets.”

UPDATE 18:19 GMT: Opposition groups have posted an audio from an unidentified caller saying that he has seen the “underground room” in Benghazi and that it was used by pro-Gaddafi forces to hold “1500 people…without food or water.”

UPDATE 18:12 GMT: The International Federation for Human Rights is putting the currently confirmed number of dead since the protests began at 640 people.

UPDATE 18:08 GMT: CNN’s Nic Robertson is reporting witness accounts of Libyan security forces confiscating and destroying the SIM and memory cards from the phones of anyone leaving the country.

Departing Libya (click to enlarge)

UPDATE 17:48 GMT: BBC: Russian officials have said all of their citizens have now left Libya, but the Ekho Moskvy news agency is carrying a report from claiming Russians are still there, and are in danger. Russian worker Aleksandr Vorkachev, in Ra’s Lanuf, tells Ekho Moskvy radio: “A camp with Russian citizens has been surrounded by Arab militant extremists.”

UPDATE 17:41 GMT: Iran’s official news agency, IRNA, is reporting that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has condemned the “bad behavior of the Libyan government towards the people” saying “All should yield to demands of their own nation. Otherwise, the outcome is already clear.”

“I highly recommend leaders of these countries to let their people express their words and that they should follow public views,” Ahmadinejad said referring to uprisings in Libya, Bahrain and Yemen.

[Ed. Note (not that it’s really even necessary): Iranian authorities violently crushed its own opposition protests on February 14. Demonstrators in Tehran demanded fair elections, freedom of speech and an end to the persecution of dissidents. At least two people died in the clash.]

UPDATE 17:27 GMT: The Guardian is reporting that Libya’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Khalid Kayem, said that reporters from BBC, CNN and other western media who have entered Libya will be “considered outlaws.”

UPDATE 17:06 GMT: LibyanYouthMovement on Twitter: BREAKING: under ground prisons being discovered in Benghazi, political prisoners being found alive, not seen light of day for years

UPDATE 17:01 GMT: New post about the Gaddafi lifestyle is here.

UPDATE 16:34 GMT: From Times of Malta: A Libyan Arab Airlines turbo-prop aircraft is heading back to Libya after having been denied permission to land at Malta International Airport. The aircraft flew unexpectedly to Malta and when queried about landing permission, the pilot gave details about a flight which was supposed to have come to Malta yesterday. Landing permission was immediately denied and the aircraft then circled for some 20 minutes south of Malta while attempts were made for the decision to be reversed. The pilot eventually decided to return home.

Soldiers of the AFM’s ‘A’ Company were seen entering the airport when the aircraft approached Malta.

It is understood that the plane had been carrying 14 passengers. There was no confirmation that the passengers included Aisha Gaddafi, the Libyan leader’s daughter. A government spokesman said the government had no information of that sort. Meanwhile soldiers are continuing to guard two Libyan Air Force Mirage F1 fighters whose pilots defected on Monday. The pilots are in custody.

Earlier this week, Lebanon refused to grant landing rights to a private plane transporting Aline Skaff, the Lebanese wife of Hannibal, one of Gaddafi’s sons.

UPDATE 16:30 GMT: BBC Arabic is reporting that former Libyan Justice Minister Mustafa Abdul Jalil – who has resigned during the unrest – has told a Swedish newspaper he has evidence Gaddafi personally ordered the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988, which killed 270 people.

UPDATE 16:26 GMT: CNN’s Ben Wedeman reports that all government buildings in Derna, including a police station, the local headquarters of the intelligence service and a police academy, have been “torched.”

UPDATE 16:20 GMT: AJE is also reporting that Major General Suleiman Mahmoud, a commander in Libyan army in Tobruk, has joined the rebellion.

A mass burial in Tripoli.
Vodpod videos no longer available.

UPDATE 16:18 GMT: Government sources say Muammar Gaddafi’s daughter was on board the National Libyan Airlines plane that tried to land in Malta on Thursday, according to an Al Jazeera post.

UPDATE 16:08 GMT: Associated Press is reporting continued weakening of the Gaddafi regime as rebellion controlling much of eastern Libya claimed new gains closer to the capital. Two pilots let their warplane crash in the desert, parachuting to safety, rather than bomb an opposition-held city. Anti-Gaddafi forces said it had taken over Misrata, which would be the largest city in the western half in the country to fall into its hands.

UPDATE 14:44 GMT: BBC quotes Gerard Buffet, a French doctor who returned to France on Monday after working in Benghazi, believes the death toll is at least 2,000 who told Le Point “In Benghazi, there were snipers everywhere. I wound up flat on my stomach in the streets, it was real carnage. I resuscitated one of my 6th-year med students: he had taken a bullet in the head, which had come out through his mouth.”

UPDATE 14:15 GMT: Round-up of Western media reports in the early afternoon of February 23…

BBC: BBC’s Paul Danahar says, unlike on the Egyptian side, the Libyan government still holds the Ras Adjir border crossing which is just a few hours drive from the capital Tripoli. “Unconfirmed reports suggest several towns between the border and Tripoli are now held by the anti-government forces but the roads in between are held by people loyal to Col. Gaddafi,” he says.

Reuters: Muammar Gaddafi’s increasingly desperate attempts to crush a revolt against his four-decade rule have killed as many as 1,000 people and split Libya, Italy’s Foreign Minister said.

Associated Press: Militiamen loyal to Muammar Gaddafi clamped down in Tripoli, with the sound of gunfire ringing in the air, while protesters who control much of the eastern half of Libya claimed new gains in cities and towns closer to the heart of Gaddafi’s regime in the capital. Protesters said they had taken over Misrata, which would be the largest city in the western half in the country to fall into their hands. The military has also moved heavy forces into the town of Sabratha, west of the capital, to try to put down protesters who have overwhelmed security headquarters and government buildings, a news website close to the government reported.

New York Times: Muammar al-Qaddafi of Libya kept his grip on the capital on Wednesday, but large areas of the east of the country remained out of his control amid indications that the fighting had reached the northwest of the country around Tripoli.

Libyans fleeing across the country’s western border to Tunisia reported fighting over the past two nights in the town of Sabratha,50 miles west of Tripoli. Reuters reported that thousands of Libyan forces loyal to Qaddafi had deployed there.

“The revolutionary committees are trying to kill everyone who is against Qaddafi,” said a doctor from Sabratha who had just left the country.

There were also reports of fighting in Misurata, a provincial center 130 miles west of the capital. A witness said that messages being broadcast from the loudspeakers of local mosques were urging people to attack the government’s opponents.

A local radio station that had been broadcasting opposition messages was reported to have been attacked. In the southern city of Sabha, considered a Qaddafi stronghold, large protests were also reported.

BBC: BBC’s Jon Leyne, in eastern Libya, says people there believe the government now controls just a few pockets of territory including parts of the capital Tripoli and the southern town of Sabha.

After a week of upheaval, protesters backed by defecting army units are thought to have almost the entire eastern half of Libya under their control.

At least 300 people have died in the uprising, although Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told reporters in Rome a death toll of 1,000 was more “credible.”

Frattini also told Corriere della Sera newspaper he feared an immigrant exodus on a “biblical scale” if Gaddafi was toppled, predicting up to 300,000 Libyans could flee.

Video purportedly of foreign mercenaries patrolling Tripoli in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 23, 2011.
Vodpod videos no longer available.


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