NATO bombs Libyan oil center as Britain urges an escalation
TRIPOLI, Libya — NATO aircraft blasted an oil terminal in a key eastern city at nightfall yesterday, Libyan TV reported, the sort of broader attack Britain is urging the alliance to make on areas controlled by ruler Moammar Khadafy.
The Libya TV report said the bombs hit methanol tanks at the oil port of Ras Lanouf, causing leaks. NATO officials had no immediate comment.
The reported attack came as the Libyan conflict appeared largely stalemated, with each side claiming gains one day, only to be turned back the next.
Libyan rebels said yesterday they have taken full control of the western port city of Misurata, 125 miles from Tripoli, the only major city in western Libya with a significant rebel toehold. The rebel claim could not be confirmed.
In Misurata, rebel fighter Abdel Salam described the situation in the city as static.
“The situation is almost frozen, as the rebels are in full control over Misurata,’’ he said. “The rebels are not engaged in any major fighting fronts with Khadafy forces.’’
The two sides have been battling intensively over Misurata, symbolic because of its location near the capital. Khadafy’s forces shelled the city heavily and at some points took up positions inside Misurata neighborhoods to fire at civilians and fighters and avoid NATO airstrikes. Rebels and residents say Khadafy forces remain at the edges of the town.
More than 1,000 people have died in Misurata in the fighting and shelling.
Salam denied earlier reports suggesting that rebels were advancing toward the western city of Zlitan, which would be the next step on the road to 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 head of Britain’s armed forces, General David Richards, appeared to relate to the stalemate and frustration in the West over the slow pace of warfare in Libya, with Khadafy still in power, able to taunt NATO for failing to unseat him.
In remarks published in The Sunday Telegraph in London, Richards urged NATO to widen the range of targets the alliance’s planes are allowed to hit in the effort to stymie the Khadafy regime’s attacks on protesters. Richards declared that “more intense military action’’ was needed or the conflict could end in stalemate.
Although refusing to comment on the reported attack on Ras Lanouf, which is about halfway between Tripoli and the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya, a NATO spokesman in Naples who declined to give his name said there was a NATO airstrike at about midday yesterday near Zawara, 30 miles from the Tunisian border. He said it was a strike on a pro-Khadafy military position where there was equipment being used to target civilians.
Tunisia’s TAP news agency said that NATO planes bombed barracks and radar installations in the Libyan town of Boukamache, about 11 miles 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.