- U.S. fears that both sides are locked in a bloody stand-off
- The West wants to ‘divide country and take oil’, dictator claims
- Thirteen-and-a-half hour barrage of bombs on Zawiyah
- Snipers given orders to ‘shoot anything that moves’
- ‘We want the international community to support a no-fly zone’, says Clinton
Colonel Gaddafi’s forces today blasted an oil terminal to smithereens as Libya’s bloody civil war entered its blackest day.
Rebels retaliated by firing back with rockets as a fireball exploded from one of the oil tanks and the sky above the Es Sider terminal, in the east of the country, filled with hideous smoke.
A witness said one of the smoke plumes was the biggest he had seen in the conflict so far.
The fresh onslaught came as Gaddafi deployed tanks and snipers to ‘shoot anything that moves’.
Forces loyal to the Libyan dictator poured into the city of Zawiyah in a desperate bid to oust the hardcore band of protesters and army defectors who have taken control.
Black clouds: Libyan rebels attack government troops as a natural gas facility burns on the frontline near Ras Lanuf today
Stalemate: There have been bloody battles between pro and anti-Gaddafi forces in the area for days
Near miss: Libyan rebel fighters run for cover as shells explode near them during clashes with forces loyal their leader Libyan a few miles outside the oil town of Ras Lanuf today
Witnesses said dead bodies were lying in the ruins of many buildings destroyed in air raids earlier in the week and there was no one in the streets of the centre of the city of 290,000.
‘We can see the tanks. The tanks are everywhere,’ one rebel fighter said by telephone.
Eye witnesses said that the city had been almost flattened after a 13-and-a-half hour barrage from rockets, tanks and war planes
The hellish scenes unfolded as senior officials in the U.S. spoke of their fears that the country had reached a painful stalemate.
Explosion: Anti-Gaddafi rebels walk under a pall of smoke and flames rising from a fuel storage depot, struck during fighting against government forces in Sedra, eastern Libya today
Gloomy: Smoke from burning oil fields in Ras Lanuf engulfs the sky
Senior officials believe that Gaddafi has solidified his control over some cities but ant-government protesters have a strong enough hold on other regions to remain locked in the stand off.
As the standoff continues and hundreds of more lives continue to be lost, it has created a split in the U.S. government about whether to take military action.
The Obama intervention is still looking at options for intervention while the European Union is preparing to impose stricter sanctions on the Libya government, including an asset freeze.
Plumes: Libyan rebels look at a smoke rising from an oil pipe just outside the town of Ras Lanuf
Transfixed: Fighters break off from firing rockets as they watch plumes of smoke rising from the blasted oil pipe
Heavy weaponry: A rebel fighter fires an anti-aircraft weapon in front of the burning has terminal
‘What we’re looking at right now—and things can change on a dime in these kinds of fluid conflicts—is basically a stalemate in certain parts of Libya,’ another U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal.
‘Gaddafi has solidified his control of some areas while the rebels have the upper hand in other places.’
He added that Libyan forces now look stronger and more cohesive than they did several days ago when revolutionary zeal was at its peak.
The new assessment on the North African country came after repeated calls from Britain and the U.S. for Gaddafi to relinquish power.
Earlier today, there were reports that three private jets owned by Gaddafi has left Libya for Vienna, Athens and Egypt.
Greek officials said they spotted one Libyan Airlines Falcon 900 jet as it briefly entered airspace for around 15 minutes earlier this morning.
Deadly weapon: A rebel fighter fires a rocket-propelled grenade launcher during a battle on the road between Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad
Stand-off: Rebel fighters show their aggression as U.S today voiced concerns that the country has reached a painful stalemate
The sightings prompted speculation that Gaddafi or members of his family have fled the country.
However, it later emerged that one aircraft had landed in Egypt carrying the head of the Libyan Authority for Supply and Logistics.
Major-General Abdel Rahman Ben Ali al-Sayyid al-Zawy, was carrying a message from Gaddafi.
Last night, the increasingly crazed despot had given his fourth rambling TV interview since protests began on February 15.
Returning to familiar themes, the Libyan leader said the rebels wanted to pave the way for a new colonial era that would allow Britain, France and the United States to divide up the country and control its oil wealth.
Making reference obliquely to unrest in the Arab world and elsewhere, he said: ‘How can (Libyan) parents allow Tunisians, Egyptians, Algerians and Afghans to enrol your children?’
He said rebels were drug-addled youths and al Qaeda-backed terrorists, and said he would die in Libya rather than surrender. One of his sons said if Gaddafi bowed to pressure and quit, Libya would descend into civil war.
Hardware: An anti-aircraft machine gun poised for action as Gaddafi’s troops bombs the oil pipe
Fire: Rebel fighters crouch on the grass near a burning gas storage terminal on the road between Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad that was struck today
Aim: A rebel fighter fires a rocket-propelled grenade launcher during a battle on the road between Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad today
He promised to fight any attempt to impose a no-fly zone on the country which he said would merely be an excuse by the West to seize Libya’s oil deposits.
‘If Al Qaeda seizes Libya, that will amount to a huge disaster,’ Gaddafi said. ‘If they (Al Qaeda fighters) take this place over, the whole region, including Israel, will be dragged into chaos,’ he said.
‘Then Bin Laden may seize all of north Africa that faces Europe.’
In the rebel-held stronghold of Benghazi, Libya’s second city where the uprising started in mid-February, loudspeakers at the court house headquarters beseeched God to protect ‘revolutionary fighters in Zawiyah’.
The body of a Benghazi man killed in fighting around the oil town of Ras Lanuf while fighting arrived from the front and his coffin was placed before the courthouse where about 400 people were gathered.
Women ululated, often done in celebrations. ‘This is a kind of celebration, because he died in God’s service,” said Faraj Saber, a business consultant, 48.
There was a protest of about 50 children in front of the courthouse, some with their mothers.
One of the children read a speech from the first floor window of the courthouse.
‘Libya has always been fearless and determined in the eyes of her enemies,’ the child said, adding:
‘Libya flies its flag with pride and freedom in the face of darkness … We will not surrender. We will die with honour.’
Appearance: Colonel Gaddafi and his entourage walk through a hotel in Tripoli yesterday where foreign journalists have been staying during the conflict