Libyan rebels welcome air strikes, no ground troops

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 21, 2011 12:19 PM
Libyan rebels welcome air strikes, no ground troops

By Angus MacSwan

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Libyan rebels welcome more air strikes by foreign forces against Muammar Gaddafi's army but do not want foreign ground troops to intervene in the war, a rebel spokesman said on Monday.

"The committee rejects foreign troops on the ground but we encourage the (aerial) bombardments of Gaddafi' army," Ahmed El-Hasi, a spokesman for the February 17 opposition coalition, said in the eastern city of Benghazi.

The rebel aim was still to capture the capital Tripoli but they wanted to achieve that without foreign offensive action, he told a news briefing in the rebel headquarters on the Benghazi sea front.

El-Hasi was speaking two days after an assault on Benghazi was repulsed when foreign warplanes hit his troops as fighting raged on the outskirts. The foreign strikes, spearheaded by France, Britain and the United States, have since targeted sites in Tripoli itself and elsewhere.

El-Hasi said the rebel committee would also send a delegation to meet Arab League officials, who after initially supporting foreign action have expressed concern about civilian casualties, to tell them that they approved of the strikes.

Gaddafi's allegations that civilians in Tripoli had been killed or wounded were lies, he said, and footage on state TV showing casualties was staged.

He said the rebel leadership had coordinated with international powers on the air strikes.

"There is a connection between us. One, to pinpoint the position of Gaddafi's troops, and two, to pinpoint the position of our fighters so they don't get hit with bombardments."

Asked if the rebels planned to recapture towns they had won and then lost in the five-week-old uprising against Gaddafi"s rule, El-Hasi said: "Our fighters are at the gates of Ajdabiyah and searching for his terrorists. Soon it will be safe. We are going all the way to Tripoli to remove the regime."

Ajdabiyah, about 150 km (90 miles) south of Benghazi, was the last rebel town to fall to Gaddafi's troops before the failed assault on the rebel stronghold and subsequent retreat.

On whether they expected to be backed by foreign action in the offensive, he said: "We are not asking the allies to pinpoint Gaddafi's troops to help us to advance. We are telling them to target them when they are trying to come into the city.

"The courage of our fighters is very high and we are still fighting Gaddafi's troops," he said.

Benghazi remained tense on Monday despite the push back of Gaddafi's forces. Shops remained shut and youths manned roadblocks on many street corners -- some just a row of plastic chairs or empty paint pots.

A 40-minute firefight on Sunday night outside a downtown hotel heightened fears that Gaddafi loyalists were still operating in the city.

(Editing by Jon Boyle)