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Libya’s rebels call on West to give them help

By Kim Sengupta

As Colonel Gaddafi's forces carried out bloody assaults on rebel-held towns yesterday, the question from many Libyans was simple: Why is the West failing to offer help in our desperate time of need?

Two frontline towns held by dissidents came under sustained attack and an oil facility was set ablaze yesterday during ferocious fighting that left dozens dead as Gaddafi forces rolled back military gains of the opposition.

The feeling was growing in opposition ranks that the disorganised and disunited political and military leadership of the protest movement would not for much longer be able to withstand the sustained pressure being applied by Colonel Gaddafi's forces.

The Benghazi-based rebel leadership has called for a no-fly zone and airstrikes against the regime. Former justice minister Abdel Jalil, one of its leading members who yesterday had a price put on his head by the regime, said that the West must “help to protect Libya's people from Gaddafi's assault and help put an end to his war”.

But British and US officials were at pains to play down any swift hopes of putting a no-fly zone in place during a Nato defence ministers’ meeting in Brussels. “Let me stress this is planning, not a decision to act, but to provide the preparations necessary so that if we decide to act, we can do so forthwith,” said the US ambassador to Nato, Ivo Daalder.

The British and French governments have said they are drafting a UN Security Council resolution banning military aircraft over Libya, but it would be unlikely to pass given Russia and China's reported opposition to such a move.

Libyan hopes that four decades of dictatorship would end was being replaced by the fear of a return of the regime as it strived to crush its opponents with firepower and threats of retribution.

The strategic oil port of Ras Lanuf in the east of the country was pounded by an artillery barrage interspersed with air strikes. Zawiya, in the west, which had become a symbol of resistance, had, according to regime officials, largely been recaptured.

A doctor in the town said he had counted about 50 dead from the fighting by late afternoon. A Libyan army captain in the regime's forces declared: “Security is at about 95%. There are some rats lying in alleys, hiding in flats. We are capturing them one group after another.”

The two sides blamed each other for igniting a pipeline and storage tanks at the port of Sidra, outside Ras Lanuf, the second largest oil outlet for the country.

An orange fireball rose up into the sky just after a warplane had streaked overhead. However, rocket propelled grenades and mortar fires had been exchanged for a time before in the same location.

Rebel fighters, the Shabab, had attempted to advance to Bin Jawad and claimed at one stage to have reached the outskirts of the town. But they were driven back with losses and last night regime troops were advancing towards Ras Lanuf with a number of tanks and trucks carrying troops.

Elsewhere, three BBC journalists were arrested and beaten. The BBC Arabic staff were detained on Monday and taken to barracks where they were assaulted, hooded, handcuffed, and subjected to a mock execution, a spokesman for the Corporation said.

Feras Killani, a Palestinian refugee, said he was taken to a military compound and thought he was going to die.

He said: “They knocked me down to the ground with their guns, AK-47s. I was down on my knees and I heard them cocking their guns. I thought they were going to shoot me. It was a fake execution.”

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