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Libyan Government Calls for Cease-Fire

August 21, 2011

Libya’s government is calling for an immediate cease-fire between rebels and forces loyal to leader Muammar al-Qaddafi after an opposition-led attack, coordinated with NATO airstrikes, rocked the country’s capital.

Libyan rebels said they were less than 20 miles from Muammar al-Qaddafi’s main stronghold of Tripoli on Sunday, a day after opposition fighters launched their first attack on the city.

NATO has reportedly been bombing Qaddafi’s Tripoli compound continuously, though no casualties have been reported yet.

The rebels said Saturday that gunbattles and mortar rounds rocked the city during the attack. NATO aircraft also made heavy bombing runs after nightfall, with loud explosions booming across the city.

Al-Jazeera TV reports that 31 Qaddafi troops were killed and another 42 captured in the clashes.

But a government spokesman also told reporters Sunday that NATO’s airstrikes have gone astray, targeting civilian buildings including schools, hospitals, farms and houses.

NATO said the shifting battle lines and concentration of fighting in towns and villages are making it more difficult to identify and engage targets for the strikes.

“It’s much tougher to do in an urban area,” NATO spokesman Col. Roland Lavoie said. “This requires very precise and deep intelligence to achieve without endangering the civilian population.”

Anti-regime protests erupted Sunday in several Tripoli neighborhoods where thousands braved the bullets of snipers perched atop high buildings, residents and opposition fighters said.

Mukhtar Lahab, a rebel commander closing in on Tripoli and a former captain in Gadhafi’s army, said relatives inside the capital reported mass protests in four neighborhoods known to be sympathetic to the opposition: Fashlum, Souk al-Jouma, Tajoura and Janzour. He said mosques there were rallying residents with chants of “Allahu Akbar” or “God is great,” broadcast on loudspeakers.

Snipers on high buildings were firing on protesters in at least one of the four neighborhoods, said Lahab. Residents contacted in the city by telephone also reported snipers firing on civilians.

Fighters said a 600-strong rebel force that set out from Zawiya has reached the outskirts of the village of Jedaim and was coming under heavy fire from regime forces on the eastern side of the town.

Murad Dabdoub, a fighter who returned to Zawiya from the front, told The Associated Press that Qaddafi’s forces were pounding rebel positions with rockets, mortars and anti-aircraft fire.

The rebels’ arrival at Jedaim was also confirmed by Abdul-Bari Gilan, a doctor in Zawiya. He told the AP that he had treated a rebel who was wounded in the fighting at Jedaim.

An AP reporter in Tripoli, meanwhile, said the city was largely quiet on Sunday after a night of gunfire and explosions.

Qaddafi’s regime was defiant.

“There are thousands and thousands of soldiers who are willing to defend the city,” government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said at a news conference in Tripoli.

Ibrahim, who earlier played down claims of an uprising in Tripoli, accused the rebels of executing innocent civilians, torching homes and robberies. “They are nothing without NATO,” he said.

State Libyan television on Saturday aired what appeared to be a live audio message by Qaddafi in which he condemned the rebels as traitors and “vermin” who were tearing Libya apart and said they were being chased from city to city — a mirror image of reality.

“Libyans wanted to enjoy a peaceful Ramadan,” he said. “Instead they have been made into refugees. What are we? Palestinians?” He called on Libyans to march by the millions on cities across the nation to peacefully liberate them.

The claims from both sides could not immediately be independently verified.

Tripoli has been Qaddafi’s stronghold since the Libyan civil war began some six months ago, but it is not clear whether the embattled leader was still there.

The capture of Tripoli would almost certainly herald the end of Qaddafi’s regime, more than 40 years after the maverick leader seized power in a military coup that toppled the monarchy of the vast North African nation.

Meanwhile, Qaddafi’s son and one-time heir apparent Seif al-Islam delivered a similarly defiant message on Saturday when he addressed supporters. He told them: “We are not surrendering; it is impossible to raise the white flag.”

“Surrender or the white flag are rejected because this is not the decision of Muammar Qaddafi or Seif al-Islam, it is the decision of the Libyan people,” he said.

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