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
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence