Gaddafi forces push Libya rebels back to Bin Jawad

Muammar Gaddafi's better armed and organised troops reversed the westward charge of Libyan rebels as world powers met in London on Tuesday to plot the country's future without the "brother leader".

British Prime Minister David Cameron, opening the London conference, accused government troops of "murderous attacks", while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said military strikes would continue until Gaddafi loyalists ceased violence.



The United States is scaling back to a "supporting role" to let Nato take full command from US forces on Wednesday, but air strikes by US, French and British planes remain key to smashing Gaddafi's armour and facilitating rebel advances.



It took five days of allied air strikes to pulverise Libyan government tanks around the town of Ajdabiyah before Gaddafi's troops fled and the rebels rushed in and began their 300-km (200-mile), two-day dash across the desert to within 80 km (50 miles) of the Gaddafi loyalist stronghold of Sirte.



But the rebel pick-up truck cavalcade was first ambushed, then outflanked by Gaddafi's troops. The advance stopped and government forces retook the small town of Nawfaliyah, 120 km (75 miles) east of Sirte.



"The Gaddafi guys hit us with Grads (rockets) and they came round our flanks," Ashraf Mohammed, a 28-year-old rebel wearing a bandolier of bullets, told a Reuters reporter at the front.





The sporadic thud of heavy weapons could be heard as dozens of civilian cars sped eastwards away from the fight.



One man stopped his car to berate the rebels.



"Get yourselves up there and stop posing for pictures," he shouted, but met little response.



Later, a hail of machinegun and rocket fire hit rebel positions. As the onslaught began, rebels leapt behind sand dunes to fire back but gave up after a few minutes, jumped into their pick-up trucks and sped off back down the road to the town of Bin Jawad. Shells landed near the road as they retreated.



Without air strikes it appears the rebels are not able to make advances or even hold ground. The battle around Sirte, Gaddafi's birthplace, will reveal if the rebel advance has reached its limit.



Reports that some Nawfaliyah residents had fought alongside government troops are an ominous sign for world powers hoping for a swift end to Gaddafi's 41-year rule.



Gaddafi accused Western powers of massacres of Libyan civilians in alliance with rebels he said were al-Qa'ida members.



"Stop your brutal and unjust attack on our country ... Hundreds of Libyans are being killed because of this bombardment. Massacres are being mercilessly committed against the Libyan people," he said in a letter to world leaders.



"We are a people united behind the leadership of the revolution, facing the terrorism of al-Qa'ida on the one hand and on the other hand terrorism by Nato, which now directly supports al-Qa'ida," Libya's official news agency quoted him as saying.



The rebels deny any al-Qa'ida links and on Tuesday promised free and fair elections if Gaddafi is forced from power.



More than 40 governments and international organisations met in London on Tuesday to set up a steering group, including Arab states, to provide political guidance for the response to the war and coordinate long-term support to Libya.



Both Britain and Italy suggested Gaddafi might be allowed to go into exile to bring a quick end to the six-week civil war, but the US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said there was no evidence the Libyan leader was prepared to leave.







Clinton met the opposition Libyan National Council envoy Mahmoud Jebril before the London talks. A senior US official said the two could discuss releasing $33 billion in frozen Libyan assets to the opposition.



Clinton said coalition military strikes would continue until Gaddafi fully complies with UN demands to cease violence against civilians and pull forces out of occupied cities.



"All of us must continue to increase the pressure on and deepen the isolation of the Gaddafi regime through other means as well," Clinton told the London conference.



"This includes a unified front of political and diplomatic pressure that makes clear to Gaddafi that he must go."



US President Barack Obama once again ruled out sending ground troops to Libya or directly bringing about regime change by toppling Gaddafi.



"To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq," Obama said in a televised address before the conference.



But US officials have not ruled out arming the rebels which they believe is sanctioned by UN Security Council Resolution 1973 which called for the protection of Libyan civilians from Gaddafi's forces. An Italian diplomatic source though said that would require a new UN resolution.



In western Libya, rebels and forces loyal to Gaddafi both claimed control over parts of Misrata, Libya's third city which has been besieged by government forces for more than a month.



Libyan state television said thousands of people were taking part in a march in support of Gaddafi in Misrata, which it said had been "cleansed of armed terrorist gangs." It was the third time the channel said Misrata had been recaptured from rebels.



A rebel spokesman said Gaddafi's forces launched another attempt to seize control of Misrata in the city



Government troops "tried an hour ago to get into the town through the eastern gate. The youths are trying to push them back. Fighting is still taking place now. Random bombardment is continuing," the spokesman, called Sami, told Reuters by telephone from the city. "Eight civilians were killed and several others wounded last night."



"The humanitarian situation is catastrophic. There is a shortage of food and medicine. The hospital is no longer able to deal with the situation," the rebel spokesman said.



"We call for urgent help to protect civilians and improve the humanitarian situation."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future