- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 19, 2011

Libyan dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s forces attacked the eastern city of Benghazi, the heart of the rebellion against the regime, and heavy fighting was reported from the western city of Misurata on Saturday.

Multiple sources in and outside Libya confirmed to The Washington Times that pro-Gadhafi forces had entered Benghazi from the city’s west.

Rebel leaders expressed concern at the absence of international action despite the passage of a United Nations Security Council resolution on Thursday that approved a no-fly zone over Libya and “all necessary action,” short of a ground invasion, to protect the Libyan people.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said after an emergency summit in Paris that French jets were already targeting Gadhafi’s forces, according to the Associated Press.

“Now there is a bombardment by artillery and rockets on all districts of Benghazi,” Mustafa Abdul Jalil, a former justice minister in the Gadhafi regime who now heads the opposition Interim National Transitional Council, told Al Jazeera television.

“There will be a catastrophe if the international community does not implement the resolutions of the U.N. Security Council. We appeal to the international community, to all the free world, to stop this tyranny from exterminating civilians,” Mr. Jalil said.

Libyans said a “massacre” had taken place in Adjabiya, in the northeast, and a major offensive was under way in the southwestern city of Zintan. Pro-Gadhafi forces also kept up their offensive in Misurata, 130 miles east of Tripoli.

Mohamed Benrasali, a member of the provisional committee administering the city of Misurata, told The Times in a satellite phone interview that the pro-democracy opposition is “very disheartened by the delay in international action.” Explosions could be heard in the background as he recounted the offensive being waged on his city.

Meanwhile, world leaders were meeting in Paris on Saturday to discuss military action in Libya.

Mr. Benrasali said 51 people had been killed and 83 injured in Misurata since Friday. Mr. Benrasali, who was speaking from a medical center in the city, said hospital beds had been set up in offices to accommodate the large number of victims of the fighting.

“We are under heavy shelling. Shells are hitting the city from all directions,” Mr. Benrasali said, adding, “Gadhafi is playing games with the international community.”

He added that pro-Gadhafi forces are waging a campaign of retribution against Misurata, which remains under rebel control, and were going from door to door terrorizing people. As a consequence of this campaign, terrified residents have been fleeing to the center of the city from its outskirts and residents worried about a humanitarian catastrophe.

A Libyan American, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said pro-Gadhafi snipers are “using civilians as human shields and trying to establish presence in [Misurata] prior to expected U.N. military operations.”

Another Libyan source, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity citing security concerns, said snipers have been taking out targets at random.

He said in some cases the wounds inflicted on civilians appear to be consistent with injuries caused by white phosphorus.

A Libyan American who spoke to her family in Tripoli on Friday said her mother told her the Libyan capital was “strangely quiet.”

Sources said pro-Gadhafi forces shot down an opposition fighter jet over Benghazi on Saturday.

Meanwhile, a Libyan government spokesman denied there had been any attacks on Benghazi.

“There are no attacks whatsoever on Benghazi. As we said, we are observing the cease-fire and we want international observers to come,” Mussa Ibrahim, the spokesman, told Reuters news agency.

“There are rebels attacking villages and towns trying to instigate outside military intervention,” he added.

President Obama on Friday warned Col. Gadhafi to stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi and pull them back from Ajdabiya, Misurata, and Zawiya.

“If Gadhafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences, and the resolution will be enforced through military action,” Mr. Obama said.

A Libyan journalist, Mohamed Nabbous of Al Hurra TV, was fatally shot in Benghazi, his pregnant wife confirmed to a Livestream chat group.

In one of his first messages to the world following the start of the uprising in Libya in February, Mr. Nabbous implored the international community to tell Col. Gadhafi to leave.

“Ask him to stop killing us. … How can you people just watch us getting killed,” he said, adding, “We just want to live free.”

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