- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2011

Residents of some rebel-held cities in Libya were living in a state of siege Monday, as troops loyal to Col. Moammar Gadhafi launched air and ground attacks in an offensive aimed at winning back lost territory.

In interviews with The Washington Times, Libyans said Col. Gadhafi’s aircraft repeatedly strafed Ras Lanouf, a key oil port on the Mediterranean coast. Fighting was also reported in Zawiya and Misurata in the western part of the country.

With Libyan rebels appealing for foreign air cover, Britain and France began drafting a U.N. resolution that would establish a “no-fly zone” over Libya.

In Washington, President Obama said NATO is consulting on a “wide range of potential options, including potential military options.”

The U.S. and U.N. Security Council have already imposed sanctions on the Gadhafi regime.

In remarks directed at Col. Gadhafi’s coterie, Mr. Obama said that “they will be held accountable for whatever violence continues to take place there.”

Pro- and anti-Gadhafi forces have waged a seesaw battle for control of rebel-held territory, particularly the cities of Misurata and Zawiya.

Col. Gadhafi’s forces appeared to have taken control of Zawiya, just 30 miles outside the capital, Tripoli, on Monday. Residents said the troops used tanks and heavy artillery against poorly armed rebels.

In Misurata, Salah Sawehly, a resident, said pro-Gadhafi forces had used tanks to attack the city on Sunday. A two-year-old boy was among those killed in the violence.

In phone interviews with The Times, the rebels said they were in control of the city, but pro-Gadhafi forces were located less than 10 miles away.

“We will not let [Gadhafi] take Misurata while we are alive,” Mr. Sawehly said.

“The only choice we have is to die for our city or make victory. We don’t want Gadhafi anymore. We want freedom,” said Faleh Abdelaziz, a resident of Misurata. “If Gadhafi came to our city again, he would destroy all kinds of life in this city.”

Idris Tayeb Lamin, a poet and former political prisoner who lives in the eastern city of Benghazi, described the situation in Misurata and Zawiya as tragic.

“These two cities are under siege and really in a bad situation,” he said.

The siege by government forces has resulted in a shortage of medicine and food in some cities. The mounting casualty toll has also stretched hospitals to the limit, and doctors reported a shortage of staff and beds.

Mr. Obama has authorized an additional $15 million to be provided to aid organizations that are already working in Libya.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, appointed Abdelilah Al-Khatib, a former foreign minister of Jordan, as a special envoy to Libya to discuss the crisis with officials in Tripoli.

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