Rebels say they control port city of Misrata

May 15, 2011 9:16:57 AM PDT
Libyan rebels have taken full control of the western port city of Misrata, rebel fighter said Sunday, but suggested it was too early for them to consider advancing to try to confront Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces around the capital.

Meanwhile, the head of Britain's armed forces, Gen. David Richards, urged NATO to widen the range of targets the alliance's planes are allowed to hit in the effort to stymie the Gadhafi's regime's attacks on protesters. Richards' remarks, published in The Sunday Telegraph in London, warned that "more intense military action" was needed or the conflict could end in stalemate.

In Misrata, rebel fighter Abdel Salam described the situation in Misrata as static.

"The situation is almost frozen, as the rebels are in full control over Misrata," he said. "The rebels are not engaged in any major fighting fronts with Gadhafi forces."

He denied earlier, conflicting reports suggesting that that rebels were advancing toward the western city of Zlitan, which would be the next step on the road to the capital Tripoli.

"The rebels agreed that it is better not to move forward or open new fronts," he said.

He added: "It will be a big risk to advance. Anything could happen and cost us heavy causalities. This is not the right decision to take right now."

The rebels control most of eastern Libya, while Gadhafi controls most of the west, including Tripoli. Misrata -- about 125 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli -- is the only rebel stronghold in the west, and the rebels were forced to advance and fall back and then advance to take it.

More than 1,000 people died in Misrata in the fighting and shelling.

Meanwhile, Tunisia's TAP news agency said that NATO planes bombed barracks and radar installations in the Libyan town of Boukamache, about 11 miles (17 kilometers) from the Tunisian border.

Libyans have been pouring from Boukamache across to Tunisia via the Ras Jdir border post the report said.

Detonations could be heard from the Ras Jdir border post, where the Tunisian army has been in a state of alert since Saturday after a blackout on the Libyan side.

TAP also reported that Tunisian forces on Saturday thwarted a push by 200 of Gadhafi forces aboard some 50 off-road vehicles into Tunisian territory.

Libyans have been trying to enter Tunisia in a bid to retake the strategic Dhehiba border crossing, controlled by Libyan rebels for the past few weeks. The Tunisian military sent tanks, armored vehicles and reinforcement troops to the area in response, TAP reported.

An activist in the far-western town of Zintan said pro-Gadhafi forces shelled the area late Saturday.

Since rebels captured the crossing on April 21, Gadhafi loyalists have repeatedly tried to retake it, but the rebels have held their ground.

The activist said shells or missiles also were fired at the nearby town of Rujban. He said he was a witness to the shelling that smashed part of a cemetery and a science building. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, and his report could not be independently confirmed.

Meanwhile, International Criminal Court prosecutors are putting the final touches to their case against three Libyan leaders on charges of murder and persecution in the brutal crackdown on anti-government rebels.

Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo will file a 74-page document with nine annexes outlining the allegations and seeking arrest warrants for the three Libyan leaders considered most responsible for the atrocities.

Moreno-Ocampo has not revealed the names of the three, but Gadhafi is widely expected to be among them.

The prosecutor said Sunday he was "almost ready for trial."

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