Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Frenzied Diplomacy as NATO Repeatedly Bombs Gadhafi

Updated at 11:45 p.m. edt

Frustrated rebel forces in Misurata claim they are ready to march west ultimately toward Tripoli, but NATO has told them not to advance in fear of unnecessary civilian casualties or friendly fire casualties at the hands of NATO aircraft.

"We should move, we want to move. But Nato told us we must stay here," Salem Shneshah, a rebel Black Brigade medic, told The Guardian of London.

"The red line, we cannot cross," Khalid Alogab, a section commander in the Libyan rebel Black Brigade, told the newspaper. "If we get the order from Nato we can go. We can capture Tarhuga (a town to the east) in two hours."

But rebel army spokesman Commander Ibrahim Betalmal urged patience, expecting the alliance aircraft to soften up resistance from diminishing forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi.

"We have been given instructions to stay on the border," Betalmal said. "No doubt NATO will help a great deal in clearing the way forward for us."

end update

A Russian envoy is meeting with the Libyan rebels in Benghazi, while a top official in Moammar Gadhafi's cabinet is in Beijing making a plea for Chinese officials not to abandon the shrinking government in Tripoli for the rebels like Moscow is doing.

The diplomatic offensive comes on a day when NATO warplanes launched the largest set of daylight strikes to date in the air campaign, including some low-flying attacks that seemed to taunt the increasingly weakened Gadhafi loyalists.

"So what you’re seeing across the country is a inexorable trend of the regime forces being pushed back, being incapacitated. You’re seeing defections, oftentimes of some very high-profile members of the Qaddafi government, as well as the military," President Obama said at a joint news conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"And I think it is just a matter of time before Qaddafi goes," Obama added.

Some of the NATO bombs hit around Gadhafi's compound, but the defiant dictator still vowed to hang on to power.

"We will not surrender, we welcome death. Martyrdom is a million times better," Gadhafi said in a phone call to state-run television in between attacks. The sound of jets appeared to be heard in the background during the call.

But in a sign of just how isolated Gadhafi has become, Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi traveled to China just days after China opened diplomatic relations with the rebel Transitional National Council, the Chinese news agency confirmed. Chinese representatives have now twice met with high-ranking rebel political leaders.

Russia has already flipped on Gadhafi, acknowledging that his days are numbered and he has few powerful friends, if any, to turn to in the world.

To drive home the point, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's envoy to Africa, Mikhail Margelov, met in Benghazi with TNC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the Russian news agency confirmed.

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