Rebels drive Kadhafi forces back from Misrata

MISRATA, Alberto Arce- Rebels fighting to oust Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi drove his forces back from around Misrata on Monday and were poised to make another thrust, as NATO said the strongman's time was running out.
After heavy clashes, the rebels controlled a stretch of coastal road west of Misrata, Libya's third city which Kadhafi's forces have laid siege to for more than two months, forcing thousands to flee.

Rebels drive Kadhafi forces back from Misrata
The Red Cross said meanwhile it delivered a shipment of humanitarian aid to the rebel-held western city amid concerns Kadhafi's forces may have dropped mines into the harbour from helicopters bearing the Red Cross emblem.
And the International Organisation for Migration said it had growing accounts from refugees arriving in Italy indicating an overloaded boat carrying up to 600 people capsized off the Libyan coast on Friday.
On the battlefront, the rebels forced Kadhafi's troops about 15 kilometres (10 miles) from Misrata on Monday, advancing to Dafnia and ready to move on Zliten, the next major town on the road to Tripoli, an AFP correspondent said.
Ahmad Hassan, a rebel spokesman in Misrata, said the insurgents had also "liberated" areas south and east of the city, killing many Kadhafi troops and seizing a large amount of weapons. Eighteen rebels and civilians were wounded.
The report could not be immediately verified.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said time was running out for Kadhafi, who would ultimately lose his decades-old grip on power given the "wind of change" sweeping the Arab world, the death of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and mounting pressure on the Taliban in Afghanistan.
"The game is over for Kadhafi" who "should realise sooner rather than later that there's no future for him or his regime," Rasmussen told CNN late Sunday.
"We have stopped Kadhafi in his tracks. His time is running out. He's more and more isolated," the NATO chief said.
NATO said Monday that in latest sorties its warplanes hit five rocket launchers, one self-propelled artillery piece, one truck-mounted gun and three buildings "hosting active shooters" in the vicinity of Misrata.
It also hit 26 ammunition depots and 16 "vehicle storages" near Hun, eight military vehicles near Brega, two military operational facilities near Tripoli and four ammunition dumps near Zintan.
Meanwhile, 70 representatives from 25 Libyan cities that have remained under the control of Kadhafi's regime, including Tripoli, pledged allegiance to the rebellion in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
"As we continue our support for the 17th February uprising and, in defiance of the regime's claims, we announce unequivocally our allegiance to and trust in the National Transitional Council (NTC)," they said in a statement.
Anti-regime sentiment is also alive and well only 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of Tripoli in Zawiya, which has been under the control of Kadhafi's forces for the past month.
"Kadhafi is a dictator," said one Zawiya shopkeeper who spoke on condition of anonymity, adding he thought that out of the population of the town "95 percent are against the regime."
Another shopkeeper reported that clashes between rebels and regime forces had lasted for four hours overnight between Sunday and Monday.
Because people are afraid, he said, many say they support the Kadhafi regime, but "in reality, 90 percent are against the regime."
But the fighting has been heaviest in and around Misrata, a make-or-break city in the Libyan conflict about 200 kilometres (125 miles) east of the capital.
A thick plume of smoke spread on Sunday over the city, the main source of supplies to rebels in western Libya, from blazing fuel depots that Kadhafi's forces bombed a day earlier.
As long queues formed at fuel stations amid fears of shortages, rebels warned Misrata's residents could run out of food and water within a month if they are not provided with "game-changing" weapons to defeat Kadhafi's forces.
Because of shelling of the city's port over the past two weeks, only one aid ship a week is now reaching Misrata, said a spokesman in the eastern rebel bastion of Benghazi.
The latest shipment of aid to land in the port on Monday morning was carrying surgical kits, spare parts to repair water and electrical supply systems, and 8,000 jars of baby food, the Red Cross said in a statement.
The shipment was laid on by the IOM whose spokesman said meanwhile they were getting a growing number of reports that a ship carrying 600 passengers capsized off the coast Tripoli on Friday.
"Some of those who were shipwrecked managed to swim back to the coast," IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy told AFP.
"The witnesses talked of bodies washed up on the coast," Chauzy said, without being able to give a death toll.
Italian coast guards and fisherman, meanwhile, saved all 528 refugees from Libya after their boat hit rocks off the island of Lampedusa in an operation a rescuer described as a "miracle." Among the refugees were 24 pregnant women.
According to the United Nations refugee agency, some 50,000 refugees have fled the North African country since a month ago.
Norway, one of the first nations to offer air assets to NATO, announced it will curb its military contribution to the operation if the campaign runs past June 24.
World powers have promised $250 million (175 million euros) in humanitarian aid to the rebels and said the Kadhafi regime's frozen overseas assets, estimated at $60 billion, would be used later to assist the Libyan opposition.

Tuesday, May 10th 2011
Alberto Arce

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