Libyan forces rocket rebels
Khadafy attacks strongholds in Nafusa mountains
BENGHAZI, Libya — Moammar Khadafy’s forces rocketed rebel fighters yesterday in the formidable strongholds and training camps they have built up in the strategic mountain heights southwest of the Libyan capital, rebels said.
The two sides appeared to be fighting for control of the two highways to the north and south of the Nafusa mountain range, which slices across the desert south of Tripoli to the western border with Tunisia.
Rebels in particular have used the roads, bringing in supplies for camps to train fighters for what they hope will be a push on the capital.
In Tripoli late yesterday, Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said that in a meeting Tuesday with Russian leaders, an envoy offered to withdraw Libyan fighters from cities if rebels do the same, as part of a peace deal.
“We are even prepared to go as far as withdrawing our army from all Libyan cities and population centers,’’ he said. “This is a new offer.’’
Ibrahim said the offer was the furthest the government had gone since fighting broke out against rebels. He said as part of the deal, NATO would have to halt its strikes of Libyan targets.
There was no immediate comment by rebel leaders based in the eastern city of Benghazi.
Khadafy made a brief appearance on Libyan state TV late yesterday, his first in several days, as NATO airstrikes resumed in Tripoli. One target was the seaport, where flames and smoke could be seen rising.
As the fighting in the mountains intensified this week, the rebel leadership in the east of the country said yesterday that it was getting graphic reports of hospitals overwhelmed with casualties and of wounded having to be loaded onto donkeys and smuggled past government blockades to get treatment elsewhere.
The situation in the Nafusa mountains “remains dire, really dire,’’ said Jalal al-Gallal, a spokesman for the rebel governing council, based in the eastern city of Benghazi.
The mountain range has been one of the few zones of opposition in western Libya since the early days of the uprising against Khadafy’s four-decade rule in mid-February. Most of the rebel forces are concentrated in the east.
The long highways on either side of the mountain range are key to both sides. The government needs easy passage without harassment from the ridgeline above if it wants to keep control of a huge swath of the west.
The rebels run supplies from the border. Also, they have used the passageway to smuggle back fighters who had fled battles in other parts of the country and ended up in Tunisia, said Omar Hussein, a spokesman for the Nafusa mountain rebels.