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Updated: March 15, 2011 18:46 IST

Qadhafi forces launch final push to recapture rebel-held areas

PTI
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A pro-Gadhafi soldier sits in the turret of a tank near the main square of Zawiya, 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Tripoli, in Libya. FIle photo
AP A pro-Gadhafi soldier sits in the turret of a tank near the main square of Zawiya, 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Tripoli, in Libya. FIle photo

Formidable formations of Libyan forces encircled the key town of Ajdabiyah today as they began the final push to wrest back the opposition strongholds of Benghazi and Tobruk, with Muammar Qadhafi holding out two choices to the rebels - “surrender or flee”.

Libyan fighter jets flew behind the rebel lines to bomb Ajdabiyah as Qadhafi’s tanks and patrol boats launched a barrage on the coastal areas for what appeared to be a decisive push to recapture the strategic town as well as Benghazi and Tobruk.

But the outgunned rebels have marshalled all their forces numbering up to 10,000 for the defence of the twin major ports of Benghazi and Tobruk, which provide Libya with crucial road links to Egypt, Al-Jazeera reported.

Western intelligence reports said that Libyan tanks and artillery were poised to strike a decisive blow to recapture both Benghazi and Tobruk in one major assault.

Qadhafi had still kept back his more formidable fighting formations, including the 3,000-strong Revolutionary Guards and heavily-armed Khamish brigade, as a reserve to fight back any western attempt to intervene in the North African country.

Amid reports that both the G-8 and U.N. Security Council were divided on the proposal to impose a no-fly zone, Al-Jazeera said that Qadhafi had decided to gamble and go all out to overrun the shrinking swathe of eastern Libya still held by the rebels.

Qadhafi, in an interview to an Italian daily, described the rebellion against his 41-year rule as a “lost cause” and also said he felt betrayed by his friends in Europe.

“The rebels have no hope, it’s now a lost cause for them.

There are only possibilities: to surrender or run away,” he was quoted as saying in the interview. He ruled out any mediation between his regime and the rebels, saying it was impossible to negotiated with “terrorists”.

He claimed that the rebels were linked with Osama bin Laden.

The Libyan despot also claimed that the international community does not know what is really happening in Libya. “The people are with me, the rest is propaganda.”

Meanwhile, the G-8 nations, meeting in Paris, were divided over the enforcement of a no-fly zone which would ground the Libyan air force.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in a radio interview that it may be already too late for world powers to help the Libyan opposition repel an advance eastwards by Qadhafi’s forces.

“The events on the ground in Libya have already outpaced diplomatic efforts. Countries meeting here (Paris) still remain short of an agreement,” he said.

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