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Rebels buoyed after third night of Coalition fire on Libya

The international coalition bombards Gaddafi’s air defences, but rebels are still not organised enough to take command.

Libyan rebels arrive at the frontline on the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, yesterday evening.
Libyan rebels arrive at the frontline on the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, yesterday evening.
Image: AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus

COALITION FORCES HAVE bombarded Libya for a third consecutive night, targeting the air defenses and forces of Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi, stopping his advances and handing some momentum back to the rebels.

But the rebellion’s more organised military units were still not ready to take command of the operations, and the opposition disarray has underlined US warnings that a long stalemate could emerge.

The air campaign by US and European militaries has unquestionably rearranged the map in Libya, and rescued rebels from the immediate threat they faced only days ago of being crushed under a powerful advance by Gadhafi’s forces.

The first round of airstrikes smashed a column of regime tanks that had been moving on the rebel capital of Benghazi in the east.

Last night, Libyan state TV said a new round of strikes had begun in Tripoli, marking the third night of bombardment. But while the airstrikes can stop Gaddafi’s troops from attacking rebel cities — in line with the UN mandate to protect civilians — the United States, at least, appears deeply reluctant to go beyond that toward actively helping the rebel cause to oust the Libyan leader.

President Barack Obama said yesterday that while it was “US policy that Gadhafi has to go,” the goal of the international air campaign was merely to protect civilians.

“Our military action is in support of an international mandate from the Security Council that specifically focuses on the humanitarian threat posed by Colonel Gaddafi to his people.

“Not only was he carrying out murders of civilians, but he threatened more,” Obama said on a visit to Chile.

In Washington, the American general running the assault said there is no attempt to provide air cover for rebel operations.

General Carter Ham said Gaddafi could still cling to power when the aerial bombardment finishes, setting up a stalemate between his side and the rebels, with allied nations enforcing a no-fly zone to ensure he cannot attack civilians.

A top French official last night added that the military intervention was likely to take “a while”, echoing Gaddafi’s own warning of a long war ahead.

Reports claim that Gaddafi’s sixth son is killed >

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Gavan Reilly

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