Faced with setbacks on the battlefront but hopeful of solid support from France and Britain, the Libyan opposition on Friday appeared to be turning strongly towards Europe for help to sustain its embattled campaign against the regime of Libyan strongman Muammar Qadhafi.
At a massive rally in Benghazi held after Friday prayers, opposition supporters waved the pre-Qadhafi flag with the French tri-colour. The opposition demonstrated its goodwill towards Paris after France on Thursday became the first country to formally recognise the Provisional Transitional National Council (PTNC) as Libya's legitimate government.
“The United States is not part of our region, which we share with the Europeans, Turkey, and the Arab countries,” said Ghanem Bashir, a pro-uprising activist.
Anti-regime protesters on Friday appeared encouraged by French President Nicolas Sarkozy's advocacy in Brussels of “targeted” air strikes as a possible option if Mr. Qadhafi used chemical weapons or attacked civilian protesters.
“The strikes would be solely of a defensive nature if Mr. Qadhafi makes use of chemical weapons or airstrikes against non-violent protestors,” Mr. Sarkozy said during the course of a European Union (EU) emergency summit convened to discuss Libya. Mr. Sarkozy claimed that the British Prime Minister David Cameron supported his plan.
Earlier, on his arrival in Brussels, Mr. Cameron said it was important that “countries of Europe show political will, show ambition and show unity in being clear that [Mr.] Qadhafi must go.” On the battlefield, pro-Qadhafi forces were persisting with the heavy offensive launched on Thursday. Air strikes on Friday had been launched near the town of Uqaylah east of the oil hub of Ras Lanuf. Brega, another major coastal oil city with an export terminal, had come under a fresh air attack. Warning that worse was to come, Saif-al-Islam, the Libyan leader's son, had told Reuters news agency on Thursday that the time for a full-scale attack on the protesters had arrived.
“There is no more chance for negotiations with rebels fighting the Libyan government,” he said.
Despite the intensity of attacks, anti-regime forces were holding on to the Ras Lanuf oil refinery. However, the regime offensive, combining use of artillery, mortars and air strikes on the eastern oil cities, appeared to have caused significant casualties. Doctors at the hospital in Ajdabiyah, near Ras Lanuf said four bodies had been brought into the hospital along with more than 40 injured people.
The more seriously wounded had been brought to Benghazi's main Al Jala hospital. “Six cases with orthopaedic injuries were brought on Thursday,” says Akram Omar, general surgeon at the hospital. He explained that medial facilities close to the frontline were fairly primitive “The hospital at Ajdabiyah cannot handle multiple injury cases, while Brega has only a small 20-bed hospital.” He added that Ras Lanuf has a clinic alone, where only minor ailments can be handled.
After holding on for more than a week, the protesters in Zawiyah, 50 km to the west of Tripoli, appeared to have been dislodged from the city, known for its oil refinery.
In Tripoli, Mr. Qadhafi was tightening his grip, by targeting on Friday, the opposition stronghold of Tajoura.