Libyan rebels will meet senior White House officials in Washington on Friday to seek cash and diplomatic legitimacy in their battle to topple Muammar Gaddafi. The United States, Britain and France say they will maintain their NATO-led air campaign until Gaddafi is forced from power but the rebels say they also need cash to hold their besieged positions on the ground.
Libyan state television said a NATO strike on the eastern city of Brega on Friday killed at least 16 civilians and wounded up to 40. It showed footage of at least nine bodies with multiple wounds, wrapped in blankets at an unknown location. It was not immediately possible to confirm the report. Rebels fighting the Libyan leader’s army for almost three months control Benghazi and the east of the country, while Gaddafi’s forces are entrenched in the capital Tripoli and nearly all of the west.
The rebels have made a plea for Washington to free up some $180 million in frozen Gaddafi assets to fund their campaign. The Washington meeting comes a day after the council’s chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil met British Prime Minister David Cameron in London, securing a promise of more aid.
“To those who stand behind Gaddafi they must know his regime is ending. There is no place for Muammar Gaddafi in Libya’s future,” Jalil told Al Arabiya in comments on Friday, promising amnesty to anyone who defects from Gaddafi’s side. Russia, which is critical of the NATO mission, called on Friday for talks between the rebels and the Libyan government.
Moscow also said it was up to the UN Security Council to decide how to distribute Gaddafi’s frozen assets, and argued that the funds should not be used to arm either side. The rebels say they need funds urgently to pay salaries and run the areas under their control, and want international legitimacy to allow them access to the frozen assets.
Food, fuel and medical equipment are in short supply in the rebel-controlled Western Mountains region, where the main delivery route is under threat from Gaddafi forces.
Doctors have been forced to open makeshift medical theatres and say they are struggling to treat the wounded NATO forces bombed Gaddafi’s compound on Thursday, and rebels say NATO air strikes helped them secure a major victory this week in seizing the airport in the besieged city of Misrata, their only major stronghold in the west. Libyan television showed footage of Gaddafi this week ending doubt about his fate. He had not been seen in public for nearly two weeks following an air strike that killed his youngest son.
Tripoli says most Libyans support Gaddafi. It calls the rebels armed criminals and al Qaeda militants and says NATO’s intervention is an act of colonial aggression. Libyan officials showed reporters the scene of Thursday’s overnight NATO air strike on the compound and said three people were killed and 25 wounded in the attack. Government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said the strikes hit near a spot where dozens of Libyans come every night, some with families, to shout slogans in support of Gaddafi.
16 civilians dead in NATO hit on Libya’s Brega town
TRIPOLI – Sixteen “civilians” have been killed in a NATO air strike on Brega, to the east of the Libyan capital, state TV on Friday quoted a military source as saying. Both Al-Libya and Al-Jamahiriya channels carried the report, which could not be independently verified. Al-Libya said that in addition to those killed, there were “dozens of wounded” from the strike “last night.”
An internatioanl coalition began carrying out strikes on forces loyal to Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi on March 19. NATO took command of operations over Libya on March 31. Massive protests in February — inspired by revolts that toppled long-time autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt — escalated into war when Gaddafi’s troops fired on demonstrators and protesters seized several towns. AFP