Gaddafi called a ceasefire. But still the bombs fell

'We need the West to give us arms so we can fight for our country'
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The Independent Online

The warplane streaked across the sky, emerging through low clouds as its missiles landed, orange flames rising under dark plumes of smoke. A few minutes later came shattering volleys of artillery shells and rockets, announcing that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces were moving forward.

This was Libya's eastern front line, two hours and six minutes after the regime in Tripoli had officially declared a ceasefire after the UN resolution authorising military action in Libya.

In the west, tanks from Colonel Gaddafi's forces rolled into the town of Misrata, the last remaining pocket of resistance in the region, where forces shelled homes, hospitals and a mosque, killing six people, according to local doctors who pleaded that a blockade be lifted allowing supplies of medicine and food to get in.

Last night there were reports that instead of withdrawing from cities they had occupied, as President Barack Obama had demanded, Colonel Gaddafi's forces were advancing further towards Benghazi, the eastern rebel stronghold. Regime troops were seen at Maghrun crossing, having moved a further 10 miles east following a barrage of rocket and mortar fire.

The day had started with the promise of a new beginning for this country. People in what remains of "Free Libya" celebrated the UN resolution, which they hoped would be their deliverance from Colonel Gaddafi's threat that they would be shown "no mercy".

Then came the announcement that he had ordered a cessation of hostilities and offered negotiations. But there was little joy at the news. Few in the crowds thronging rebel-held Benghazi in an afternoon of sunshine believed that peace was about to break out. Many queued to implore the international community, which had acted at last, not to accept at face value the words of a man who had killed and persecuted so many of his fellow citizens.

What, they asked, would be the fate of those already in the clutches of Colonel Gaddafi's henchmen, facing retribution in the towns and cities recaptured from the revolution in brutal offensives over the past few weeks?

"There have been men dragged away from their wives and children on the words of masked informers. Would they simply be forgotten?" asked Hania Ferousi, a university lecturer.

Sixty miles away in Sultan, where the retreating fighters of the revolution – known as the Shabaab – were making a stand, the war continued.

Eight were killed in Zuwaytina after leaving their house at Ajdabiya, under regime control following days of fierce fighting. The bodies of four adults and three children lay by the side of the road, covered by blankets. A little further on, propped up in the front passenger seat of a battered black Daiwa saloon, was an elderly man, still, mouth open as if he was asleep.

Faiz al-Beidi, who was driving by in his pick-up truck, had attempted to retrieve the corpses but had to flee when regime soldiers arrived. "They were just firing, at everyone, for no reason," he said. "We are Muslims, I wanted to see these poor people were given proper burial, but they stopped even that."

The civilians, Mr Al-Beidi and the rebels insisted, had been murdered in cold blood by Gaddafi's soldiers, a claim impossible to verify. But 10 miles to the east, at Abdullah Athi, another driver, Nasr Mohammed, showed bullet marks on his Opel saloon as his wife sat in the back hugging two children, one of them a little boy with a large bandage on his temple. "He was cut by flying glass. A Gaddafi soldier at a checkpoint just opened fire. My boy could have been blinded," Mr Mohammed said.

"We were leaving Ajdabiya because I knew that if any of my family get injured in the fighting the hospital would not be able to save them. They have patients lying on floors. We need the Americans, the French, the British to come in with medicine and aid. They should concentrate on that, give weapons to the Shabaab and let us fight for our own country."

The Shabaab fighters at Sultan had looked a beaten force, hammered and chased by Gaddafi troops through town after town: first Bin Jawad, then Ras Lanuf, Brega, Ajdabiya. Names which induced shudders in some of them.

Yesterday, they were no longer looking haunted. The rebels were convinced that France and Britain would start attacks within hours, enabling them to roll forward into Ajdabiya. They were keen to discuss what kind of planes would be used. Gaddafi's elderly air force would be no match for Mirages and Tornados, they agreed.

Maroud Bwisir, a musician and café owner, had brought along his Spanish guitar and sang with his comrades. The group broke up as an enemy aircraft appeared, banking to drop bombs on a Shabaab position to the right.

"What happened to the no-fly zone?" cried Mohammed al-Haddad. "They promised us that they will stop the planes and that was last night. Are they going to wait until Benghazi falls before we have the no-fly zone?"

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