- The Washington Times - Monday, June 13, 2011

With NATO’s attention mostly focused on Tripoli, troops led by two sons of Moammar Gadhafi have flanked Misrata in a pincer move aimed at retaking the key rebel-held city in Libya’s west.

Germany and the United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, officially recognized the rebels’ Transitional National Council as the sole, legitimate representative of the Libyan people.

Troops loyal to Col. Gadhafi have amassed around Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city, according to residents and rebels. Scores of people have been killed in recent days by a barrage of rockets fired by the regime’s forces, they added, describing the onslaught as terrifying.

On Misrata’s west, the regime’s forces are led by Khamis Gadhafi, the Russian-trained commander of the elite Khamis Brigade. On Misrata’s east, about 2,000 troops are led by Moatessem Gadhafi, who has shifted his attention from the rebel-held east of Libya to focus on retaking the key port city.

“They have not been able to breach any of our defense lines, but the casualties on our side are too much to bear,? Mohamed, a rebel spokesman who requested that his full name not be used citing concern for his safety, told The Washington Times on Monday.

The city’s hospitals are packed to capacity. Rebels are trying to evacuate the wounded to Malta, Greece, the Tunisian capital of Tunis and Benghazi, the rebel’s de facto capital in Libya’s east.

The fall of Misrata would deal a significant blow to the rebels as well as international efforts to remove Col. Gadhafi from power.

Rebels regained control of Misrata four weeks ago following a siege that lasted more than two months and pushed the city to the brink of a humanitarian crisis.

Gadhafi knows that the fight for Libya is the fight for Misrata,” said Mohamed, speaking from Qatar, the first Arab nation to recognize the rebels’ provisional government.

“Misrata has broken his nose and his back. His nose in terms of the heavy casualties we inflicted on his forces, and his back in terms of his bargaining power and grip on the country,” he added.

Heavy fighting also was reported from the western towns of Zawiya, where a regime spokesman claimed that an uprising had been successfully crushed, and Zlitan.

The rebels have made gains in the Western Mountains, seizing territory and advancing to within 30 miles of Tripoli, according to rebel sources. The road connecting Libya to Tunis has been cut.

The rebels say NATO must keep its focus on Misrata to avoid the risk of losing gains they achieved at a high cost.

“Where is NATO? If Misrata’s defenses are breached, only God knows what will happen,” said Mohamed, the rebel spokesman.

He warned that the fall of Misrata would be a serious setback to efforts to remove the Gadhafi regime from power.

On Sunday, NATO aircraft hit two rocket launchers and anti-aircraft artillery in the vicinity of Misrata.

The rebels got a boost Monday when Germany announced that it officially recognized their council as the legitimate government of the Libyan people.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle made the announcement on a visit to Benghazi.

The United Arab Emirates recognized the council Sunday and gave Col. Gadhafi’s ambassador 72 hours to leave the country.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton exhorted African nations to step up political pressure on Col. Gadhafi to hasten the fall of his regime.

Speaking at a meeting of the African Union in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on Monday, she urged the African representatives to suspend the operations of the Libyan regime’s embassies in their countries, expel pro-Gadhafi diplomats, and increase contact and support for the rebel provisional government.

“Your words and your actions could make the difference” in bringing the situation to a close, she said.

Not all African nations have supported the U.N. Security Council’s efforts against the Gadhafi regime. The main reason for their allegiance to the Libyan leader has been the fact that Col. Gadhafi financed many African regimes and the African Union.

In recent weeks, NATO has focused the bulk of its firepower on the regime’s assets in and around Tripoli.

Col. Gadhafi appears unfazed by the airstrikes.

Residents of Tripoli told The Times that Libyan state TV had broadcast footage of Col. Gadhafi playing chess on Sunday evening with Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the visiting Russian head of the World Chess Federation.

c This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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