Thursday, August 4, 2011

Gaddafi seeks Islamist alliance, rebels receive fuel

Muammar Gaddafi's son has made a bid to divide the fractious Libyan rebellion, telling a newspaper he was forging an alliance with Islamist rebels against their liberal allies.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi's comments, in an interview with the New York Times, were a sign that the Libyan leader's camp hopes to exploit divisions among the rebels revealed by the assassination of their military commander last week.
The newspaper quoted an Islamist rebel leader who confirmed he had been in contact with Gaddafi's son. However, he pledged his continued support for the rebellion and denied a split with the liberal wing of the six-month-old rebellion.
The rebels scored a victory Thursday, bringing a ship with a seized cargo of government-owned fuel into their port.
The docking in Benghazi of the Cartagena, a tanker carrying at least 30,000 tonnes of gasoline, boosts an insurgency which has won broad international military and diplomatic backing but is struggling to oust Gaddafi.
Gaddafi has so far remained in control of the capital Tripoli despite severe fuel shortages and rebel advances on three fronts, backed since March by Western air strikes. He has defied hopes in Western states of a swift exit, forcing them to await progress on political and military fronts.
The rebels have faced their own problems, from stalling battlefield momentum to splits among their supporters, revealed starkly last week when military chief Abdel Fattah Younes was killed in circumstances that have yet to be fully explained.
Rebels and pro-Gaddafi forces have exchanged fire in the towns of Zlitan and Brega to the east of Tripoli, and a rebel offensive in the Western Mountains appeared to have stalled.
Gaddafi cracked down firmly on Islamists during his 41 years in power, and many Islamists have joined the rebellion, siding with more liberal, pro-Western rebels trying to oust him.
In what would amount to a remarkable reversal of decades of policy, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi told the New York Times he had made contact with Islamists among the rebels, led by a figure named Ali Sallabi, and would now form an alliance with them.
The Islamists and the government would issue a joint statement on their alliance within days, he said.
"The liberals will escape or be killed," said Saif al-Islam, once seen as a reformist and potential successor to his father. The newspaper showed a photo of Saif al-Islam, who normally appears neatly-groomed in well-tailored Western suits, sporting a newly-grown beard and traditional scarf at his interview.
"We will do it together ... Libya will look like Saudi Arabia, like Iran. So what?" he said. "I know they are terrorists. They are bloody. They are not nice. But you have to accept them," he added of the Islamists.
However, the Islamist figure courted by Saif al-Islam denied there was any such deal. Sallabi confirmed to the New York Times that he had been in contact with Saif al-Islam, but said he still backed the rebellion and remained allied with liberals.
While there has been growing international recognition of the Benghazi-based rebel administration, the rebels are still struggling financially and their fighters are not as well-armed, trained or organised as Gaddafi's.
Thursday they secured a boost when NATO, which is enforcing an arms embargo on Libya, cleared the Cartagena, a tanker carrying enough fuel to fill nearly a million cars, to dock in Benghazi.
A Reuters correspondent saw the ship in the port. There did not appear to be any activity on the black-hulled vessel.
The shipment belongs to the Libyan government's shipping arm but it has been blocked at sea for months, apparently held up by NATO's efforts to prevent Gaddafi's forces being resupplied and reports that the captain was a rebel sympathizer.
A NATO spokesman declined to comment on a report in a petroleum industry newsletter, the Petroleum Economist, that the Cartagena was seized Tuesday night by anti-Gaddafi rebels with the help of special forces from a European state.
Gaddafi-held territory has suffered from severe fuel-shortages for months, with residents forced to queue for days for petrol.
Fighting has slowed since breakneck advances and retreats over Libya's desert terrain in the uprising's early days.
Western air strikes on Gaddafi forces have prevented the rebels being over-run in government counter-attacks, but they have not yet cleared the path for a rebel push on Tripoli.
Near the capital, rebels control a mountainous region southwest of Tripoli, as well as the port of Misrata to the capital's southeast. In the mostly rebel-held east of the country, fighting has see-sawed between the town of Ajdabiyah and the oil port of Brega.
Hospital officials in Ajdabiyah said one rebel was killed and four others were wounded in clashes in Brega Wednesday. Rebels said the front line was quiet Thursday as they cleared mines set by government forces before further attacks.
"The mines are randomly scattered. To clear them takes time," said rebel ministry of defense spokesman Ahmed Bani.
Britain's Ministry of Defense said it had carried out air strikes Tuesday and Wednesday against buildings, staging posts and a tank being used by Gaddafi forces near Zlitan, the next big town on the road from Misrata to Tripoli.
Thursday, on the western side of Zlitan, pro-Gaddafi officials showed journalists the bodies of two children they said had been killed in a NATO air strike earlier in the day.
There were no signs of military infrastructure in the area. It was impossible for journalists to confirm the official account of the incident.More..

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