Gadhafi regime claims three cities retaken

March 6, 2011 at 10:18 PM
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TRIPOLI, Libya, March 6 (UPI) -- Moammar Gadhafi's forces' claims of having retaken key cities Sunday was refuted by rebels as warfare raged on several fronts in Libya.

The BBC reported rebels said they had turned the tide during heavy fighting and had pushed government troops out of Zawiyah. Gadhafi's forces, backed by tanks and artillery, had fought into Misurata only to be repelled, the British news network said.

Mohamed Benrasali told the BBC one government tank had been blown up, 16 Gadhafi soldiers killed and other soldiers captured.

In Bin Jawad, rebel fighters retreated after being attacked by helicopter gunships Saturday. Military aircraft also have been reported over Ras Lanuf where state TV had reported Gadhafi's troops had regained the upper hand but insurgents still held sway, the BBC said.

A large rally in Tripoli celebrated the regime's claimed capture of Misurata and Zawiyah, CNN reported.

State TV also said Gadhafi loyalists had retaken Tobruk, far to the east. "Morning victory, oh people of Libya. Victory city of Tobruk from terrorist gangs," the station said.

But witnesses in Tobruk said it was still held by the opposition. There also were conflicting reports on the situation in the oil port of Ras Lanuf on the central coast.

A witness in Misurata told CNN six tanks bombarded the courthouse, which the opposition was using as its headquarters, and black smoke was rising from the building.

The New York Times said Gadhafi's government was bracing for a "showdown" with rebels in the next few days in the port city of Surt. The city is symbolic as Gadhafi's birthplace, but also strategic to the rebels as a marker to their westward campaign toward Tripoli.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who talked by phone Sunday with Libya's foreign minister, said he has appointed the former foreign minister of Jordan, Abdelilah al-Khatib, as his special envoy to Libya to begin talks with authorities in Tripoli and in the region on the humanitarian situation and wider issues of the crisis.

"The secretary-general is deeply concerned about the fighting in western Libya, which is claiming large numbers of lives and threatens even more carnage in the days ahead," a representative of Ban said in a statement.

"He notes that civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence, and calls for an immediate halt to the government's disproportionate use of force and indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets."

In his conversation with Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa, Ban also called on the authorities "to uphold their responsibility to protect the country's citizens and to heed the Libyan people's legitimate aspirations to live in dignity and peace."

U.N. relief official Valerie Amos Sunday requested humanitarian access to Misurata.

"Humanitarian organizations need urgent access now," she said in a release. "People are injured and dying and need help immediately. I call on the authorities to provide access without delay to allow aid workers to help save lives."

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also said the Libyan Red Crescent was trying to get ambulances into Misurata from Tripoli to collect the dead and injured.

Amos was at the Tunisia-Libya border to review the ongoing relief effort for people fleeing Libya.

Various rights groups have estimated at least 1,000 people have been killed since the uprising began last month.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees agency says hundreds of thousands of people have fled Libya to neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, both of which are also in political upheaval.

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