Tuesday, May 10, 2011

NATO Turns Up Heat As Mad Max Rebel Army Tries to March

NATO warplanes unleashed a massive bombardment on targets in Tripoli overnight as rebel forces to the east prepare for yet another offensive aimed at marching toward Libya's capital.

The biggest air assault in recent weeks was a sign that NATO is serious about attempting what it hopes is a final push to either get Moammar Gadhafi to step down.

NATO targeted at least four sites in Tripoli, AP reported, but may have also hit a hospital in the barrage.

The stepped up air campaign came after forces loyal to Gadhafi shelled and launched rockets over the weekend at the biggest fuel depot in Misurata, where food shortages, sniper fire and deplorable conditions are already threatening civilians.

In Eastern Libya, a rejuvenated and better trained rebel force believed to be the biggest ragtag army the insurrection has seen in recent weeks, battled outside of Ajdabiya, a rebel-held town about 90 miles from the rebel capital of Benghazi.

The rebels, whose machine gun mounted pickup trucks and dune buggies look like something out of the "Mad Max" movies, hope to regain a series of small oil patch towns and terminals in the next week, with the promised help of NATO warplanes.

Although they have failed to hold any of the ground they have captured since the fighting began two months ago, the rebel leadership insists they can march to Tripoli without the help of outside ground forces.

"We have made a clear decision," the former University of Washington lecturer-turned-Libyan rebel leader Ali Tarhouni told The Seattle Times. "We don't want any armies from the United States or Europe to go to Libya. What we are asking for is the no-fly zone, and for the no-fly zone to intensify to protect the citizens from this dictator."

Meanwhile, United Nations humanitarian workers reported an overcrowded ship carrying about 600 people believed to be African refugees sank yesterday just outside the port of Tripoli. All aboard were believed dead.

The maritime disaster came amid complaints that the African Union has behaved like a Gadhafi puppet, failing to help take care of refugees from its countries stuck in blood-soaked Libya.

In a more heartening development, Eman al-Obeidy, the woman who gained attention when she ran into a Tripoli hotel to tell Western journalists she had been beaten and raped by Gadhafi forces, is believed to have made it to safety in Qatar after sneaking out of Libya late last week.

Anderson Cooper and others at CNN deserve credit for staying on top of al-Obeidy's story and constantly pressuring Libyan officials for information on her health, safety and whereabouts after she was dragged off by Gadhafi goons. 

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