Cairo/Tripoli, March 26 (DPA) Libyan rebels Saturday advanced, recapturing the key town of Ajdabiya and forcing troops loyal to leader Muammar Gaddafi to retreat.Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said government troops withdrew from the town after airstrikes intensified.
Kaim said attacks by coalition forces supported Gaddafi’s opponents, adding that government tanks and armoured vehicles were destroyed in the attack.
People were celebrating in Ajdabiya after opposition forces seized control, following days of fierce fighting with Gaddafi’s forces, according to witnesses.
Ajdabiya is located 160 km from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi on the frontline between government forces and the rebel-controlled eastern part of Libya.
Rebels were reportedly on their way to the key oil port town of al-Burayqa, to which Gaddafi forces were retreating.
They are also still trying to take Misurata, Libya’s third-largest city, thought to be a gateway to Tripoli, still under Gaddafi control.
Loud explosions were heard in the capital Tripoli as airstrikes imposing a no-fly zone over the conflict-ridden country continued early Saturday. A Libyan military spokesman said the attacks were targeting military and civilian sites in western Tripoli.
Since March 19, a US-led coalition that includes Britain and France has been taking out Libyan air defences and ground forces in order to enforce a UN-imposed no-fly zone to protect civilians.
US President Barack Obama said Saturday the mission in Libya was succeeding and that Gaddafi must be held responsible for his actions.
“We’re succeeding in our mission,” Obama said in his weekly radio address. “We’ve taken out Libya’s air defences. Gaddafi’s forces are no longer advancing across Libya.”
Obama also praised the international community for its involvement, after NATO agreed to take over the enforcement of the no-fly zone. He vowed that US involvement would remain limited and that no ground forces would be sent into Libya.
Libya’s official news agency JANA said Libyans were defending oil tanks “to protect the wealth of Libyans with their bodies” after “the colonial aggression deliberately targeted it”.
A pro-Gaddafi military source accused the French and other allied air forces of committing “genocide” in the country.
“Colonial crusader aggression does not discriminate between unarmed civilians and military targets, so that terrorist groups would be able to progress to our oil fields and tanks and seize it,” the source said.
Libyan officials, quoted by Al-Jazeera, said 100 people have so far been killed in the airstrikes, but did not state whether the number included civilian casualties.
The Washington Post reported that the US and other Western nations are considering supplying Libyan rebels with weapons.
The continuing ground battles between rebels and Gaddafi’s forces prompted the African Union Friday to call for a transitional period that would lead to democratic elections in Libya. The AU and African states such as South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe have called for an end to coalition airstrikes.