Gaddafi Threatens Offensive, Ignores Diplomatic Moves

“It’s time for action. We are moving now,” Saif al-Islam told Reuters in an interview. “Time is out now…we gave them two weeks (for negotiations).”

As he spoke, Gaddafi’s forces intensified their counter-attack on the insurgent heartland, bombarding rebel positions in the oil port of Ras Lanuf. Warplanes also hit Brega, another rebel-held oil hub further east.

Gaddafi forces and rebels also fought in the streets of the western town of Zawiyah, close to Tripoli, which has changed hands several times in recent days. Residents described scenes of carnage, with women and children among the dead.

As the military momentum appeared to turn against the rebels, who had set their sights on advancing to the capital, foreign powers were at odds over how to end the turmoil and force Gaddafi out.

Gulf Arab countries said Gaddafi’s government was no longer legitimate and France and Britain jointly called on the European Union to recognise the rebel council based in Benghazi.

Despite a flurry of meetings, foreign governments came no closer to deciding on action. The United States and NATO’s head expressed doubt over the wisdom of imposing “no-fly zones” without full international backing and a legal justification.

The African Union rejected any form of foreign intervention but said it was sending a delegation of five heads of state to Libya soon to try to arrange a truce in the hostilities.

Gulf Arab countries said Gaddafi’s government was no longer legitimate and France and Britain jointly called on the European Union to recognise the rebel council based in Benghazi.

Despite a flurry of meetings, foreign governments came no closer to deciding on action. The United States and NATO’s chief expressed doubt over the wisdom of imposing no-fly zones without full international backing and a legal justification.

The African Union rejected any form of foreign intervention but said it was sending a delegation of five heads of state to Libya soon to try to arrange a truce in the hostilities.

“THE LONG HAUL”

In a sobering view of the bloodiest of the uprisings now shaking the Arab world, U.S. National Intelligence chief James Clapper said in Washington that Gaddafi was “in this for the long haul” and was likely to prevail.

London-educated Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, previously seen as a potential reformer, said in the interview that Libya would defeat the rebels even if Western powers intervened.

“We will never ever give up. We will never ever surrender. This is our country. We fight here in Libya,” he said, speaking in a compound in Tripoli. “Libya is not a piece of cake.”

Rebels in Ras Lanuf reported clashes with Gaddafi forces who landed by boat.

“Four boats carrying 40 to 50 men each landed there. We are fighting them right now,” Mohammed al-Mughrabi, who described himself as a spokesman for the rebels, told Reuters by phone.

The rebels fired anti-aircraft guns towards warplanes and rockets out to sea towards naval ships, without visible effect.

State television said rebels were ousted on Thursday from the port and airport of Es Sider, another oil terminus about 40 km (25 miles) west of Ras Lanuf.

The poorly equipped rebels conceded they were struggling to hold ground against the government’s vastly superior firepower.

“(Gaddafi) might take it. With planes, tanks, mortars and rockets, he might take it,” said rebel fighter Basim Khaled.

“A no-fly zone would be great,” rebel fighter Salem al-Burqy said, echoing the view of many comrades.

In the west, Gaddafi’s troops laid siege to Zawiyah to try to starve out insurgents clinging to parts of the shattered city after see-saw battles this week.

One fighter said rebels had retaken the heart of Zawiyah from the army overnight. Authorities have kept journalists away from the town, about 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli.

The rebels received a boost in their quest for international legitimacy when France recognised their Libyan National Council. An aide to President Nicolas Sarkozy said an ambassador would go to Benghazi and a Libyan envoy would be received in Paris.

Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron said Gaddafi and his clique had lost legitimacy and must step down. Reuters