Gaddafi forces launch final push to recapture rebel-held areas

Libyan fighter jets flew behind the rebel lines to bomb Ajdabiyah as Gaddafi'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. Gaddafi 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 UN Security Council were divided on the proposal to impose a no-fly zone, Al-Jazeera said that Gaddafi had decided to gamble and go all out to overrun the shrinking swathe of eastern Libya still held by the rebels.

Gaddafi, 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 Gaddafi'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.

France is demanding a no-fly zone over Libya to protect innocent civilians of the country. But the US, Russia and other EU countries have reacted cautiously to the proposal.

US Secretary of State Hillary of Clinton, who was in Paris for the G-8 meeting, met Mahmoud Jibril, a leader of the opposition National Council in Libya, at a hotel in the French capital for 45 minutes and discussed ways through which the US could assist beyond humanitarian aid.

The United Nations Security Council also took up the contentious issue of a no-fly zone yesterday, but no decision was reached. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the restive nation risks becoming a "pariah state" if Gaddafi remains its leader.

"If Gaddafi went on to be able to dominate much of the country, well this would be a long nightmare for the Libyan people, and this would be a pariah state," he was quoted as saying by the BBC.

According to UN estimates, over 1,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Gaddafi's 41 years rule began on February 14. More than 200,000 people have fled the country, most of them foreign workers.

Human Rights Watch said the Gaddafi regime had carried out a wave of "arbitrary arrests and forced disappearances" in the capital Tripoli. The rights watchdog said Libyan authorities had arrested scores of protesters and suspected government critics, adding that some of them had been tortured.

Libyan government forces and rebels were also still battling for the oil town of Brega. At one point, both sides had simultaneously claimed control of the town. In the west, Gaddafi's forces had moved into the rebel-held town of Zuwara and are shelling Misrata city.

Bin Jawad, Zawiyah and Ras Lanuf, which have been recaptured by Gaddafi's forces, looked like ghost towns as their residents have fled and only Gaddafi's men can be seen there, media reports reaching here said.

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