Fighters renew attack on Khadafy stronghold
Libyan leaders closer to forming new government
SURT, Libya - With NATO jets roaring overhead, revolutionary forces fought their way into Moammar Khadafy’s hometown yesterday in the first significant push into the stubborn stronghold in about a week.
Libya’s new leaders also tried to move on the political front, promising to announce in the coming week a new interim government that it hopes will help unite the country. However, disagreements remain about what the Cabinet should look like.
The National Transitional Council led the rebellion that forced Khadafy into hiding and has taken over the leadership of the North African nation even as it continues to fight forces still loyal to the fugitive leader.
The council-appointed prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, sought support from leaders at the United Nations yesterday, telling them that “a new Libya is coming to life’’ as a nation committed to democracy, equality, and reintegration into the international community. He said the council was committed to drafting a constitution that would be put to the Libyans for a referendum.
But the council members have been struggling to form a new interim government amid political infighting over everything from which cities should be represented and how many Cabinet ministers there should be. That has raised concerns that the former rebels will splinter into rival factions now that they no longer have the ouster of Khadafy as a common cause.
Council chief Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, speaking to reporters in Benghazi after returning to Libya from New York where he attended the UN General Assembly, acknowledged differences but said a new government would be named next week to guide the country until formal elections can be held.
“This is the crisis management phase and it should be led by people who are efficient, even if they have to be from the same city, until the liberation of the country and until the constitution is established,’’ he said. “Then they can choose a government that they want.’’
Revolutionary forces also have been unable to rout well-armed Khadafy loyalists from strongholds in his hometown of Surt, Bani Walid, and several southern enclaves.
Hundreds of revolutionary fighters launched a new assault on Surt yesterday, a week after heavy fighting forced them to pull back to the city’s outskirts. Explosions rocked the city and smoke rose into the sky as Khadafy’s forces fired mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades at the fighters.
Ambulances sped from the direction of the front line, and a doctor said at least one fighter was killed and 25 others wounded in the battle.
Osama Nuttawa al-Swehli, who was helping coordinate the advance, said fighters moved on the city from four different areas, meeting heavy resistance. He said NATO airstrikes took out some of the loyalists’ tanks, although that could not be confirmed.
He said the intent wasn’t to capture Surt but to increase pressure on forces inside, saying they had intercepted radio signals suggesting high-ranking former regime officials were in the city.
The two sides have been locked in a standoff since former rebels tried to advance on the city a week ago but were repelled by strong resistance.