- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2011

Col. Moammar Gadhafi on Thursday blamed Osama bin Laden for the unrest sweeping Libya, even as forces loyal to the dictator waged fierce battles in cities around Tripoli in an attempt to crush the pro-democracy uprising.

In the eastern and southern parts of the country, which are largely under the control of the regime’s opponents, scores of civilians and soldiers piled into vehicles bound for Tripoli and Col. Gadhafi’s tribal stronghold of Sirte for what is expected to be a deadly showdown with the regime.

Meanwhile, the White House said it was examining all options, including imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, and the Swiss government announced that it had frozen assets belonging to Col. Gadhafi and his family.

Convoys of vehicles packed with heavily armed civilians and soldiers who defected from the army were leaving Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, residents and eyewitnesses told The Washington Times in phone interviews.

Rebel soldiers chanted slogans in support of Libyans in the west.

“We are coming to free you, our capital,” they shouted.

By Thursday night, residents in Tripoli were reporting that groups allied against the regime had arrived on the outskirts of the capital.

Meanwhile, Col. Gadhafi’s forces unleashed retribution on in cities in the western part of the country.

Libyans spoke of alarming levels of violence in Al-Zawiya, 30 miles west of Tripoli, and in Misurata, 130 miles to the east of the capital. Several sources confirmed that scores of people had been killed and hundreds wounded in both cities.

“Today has been a very bad day in Al-Zawiya,” said Ahmed Bentaher, a doctor based in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Dr. Bentaher said a colleague who works at a hospital in Al-Zawiya told him that security forces and African mercenaries had used machine guns to fire at people in the city. Hospitals were inundated with dead and wounded victims of the carnage.

People in Al-Zawiya were afraid to leave their homes out of fear that they would be shot by snipers and mercenaries. Bodies piled up in the streets and anyone trying to retrieve them risked being shot.

Fighting was also reported in Sabratha and Zuara, 50 miles and 75 miles west of the capital respectively.

Benghazi, the scene of much celebration since it shook off the regime earlier this week, was quiet on Thursday as residents anxiously awaited news from the west.

“Residents are going with the army to Tripoli,” said Abdullah Al-Huni, a Benghazi resident.

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