Libya unrest: Gaddafi claims to retake towns disputed

The BBC's John Simpson says Ras Lanuf remains in rebel hands

Four Libyan towns which forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi claimed to have retaken remain under rebel control, witnesses say.

Tobruk and Ras Lanuf remain in rebel hands, BBC correspondents said.

Anti-Gaddafi forces still control Misrata and Zawiya, residents and rebels said.

But both Misrata and Ras Lanuf came under renewed attack on Sunday, and clashes have been reported in the small town of Bin Jawad.

In the capital, Tripoli, officials said pre-dawn gunfire there was celebrating pro-Gaddafi "gains" of the towns.

Many people there first thought the firing was clashes between pro- and anti-government forces, and there are suspicions celebratory gunfire was then used to cover up the gunfight.

Tripoli has been Col Gaddafi's main stronghold as he attempts to reassert control over the country from rebels who have taken much of the east of the country as well as some towns closer to Tripoli, in the west.

In other developments:

  • An eight-strong British diplomatic team who were detained near the rebel stronghold of Benghazi have been freed. The team, thought to include six SAS members, was found carrying guns, explosives and passports from four countries. It had reportedly been trying to put UK diplomats in touch with the rebel leadership
  • Three Bangladeshis have died and 16 are still missing after they jumped off a ship which had just evacuated them from Libya
  • UK Prime Minister David Cameron has said it is time for Col Gaddafi to step down
  • French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, speaking on a visit to neighbouring Egypt, said any international military intervention in Libya would have "absolutely negative" effects
  • Pope Benedict XVI has appealed for peace in Libya, extending his prayers for the victims of a "growing humanitarian crisis"
'Dancing in the square'

Troops backed by helicopter gunships have attacked the eastern coastal towns of Bin Jawad and Ras Lanuf, recently captured by the rebels.

Analysis

There are questions being asked in Tripoli about the thousands of rounds that have been fired today. In daylight it is clear it is coming from Gaddafi supporters.

But before dawn it sounded different, more like a fight. A Libyan man told me there had been some sort of shoot-out, and the mass firing in the air had been started to cover it up.

The regime does appear to feel more secure than it did 10 days ago when I arrived, even though it is more isolated.

But as the fighting gets worse, there is a real risk of prolonged civil war. As long as Col Gaddafi can keep his own forces loyal, it does not look as if this crisis will end quickly or cleanly.

Two people were killed and about 40 were wounded in fighting around the major oil town of Ras Lanuf - 160km (100 miles) east of Col Gaddafi's stronghold of Sirte - which was taken by opposition forces on Saturday.

Rebels said their forces withdrew from Bin Jawad - about 50km north-west of Ras Lanuf - after coming under attack when they advanced.

"We got thrown by bombs and by snipers from the side roads that we can't see," said one rebel, Jamal Al Karrar, of the attack. "I didn't even use my Kalashnikov, I didn't find no target.

"All I saw is bombs and bullets and we were trying to escape... It was really scary man."

As well as the stronger resistance, rebels are also running short of fuel, which is increasing their anxiety, correspondents say.

In the west, tanks have been in action against the rebel-held cities of Misrata, 200km east of Tripoli, and Zawiya.

Some of the day's heaviest fighting was reported in Misrata, where a local doctor told the BBC the situation became "very bad" after pro-Gaddafi forces with tanks and armoured cars went into the city centre and opened fire.

He said they shot at people whether they were armed or not, and Reuters quoted a witness as saying at least 18 people were killed before the pro-Gaddafi forces were pushed out of the city five hours later.

map

The UN estimates that more than 1,000 people have died in the unrest in Libya, which follows public protests in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt that saw their presidents overthrown.

The UN Security Council approved sanctions last week imposing asset freezes and travel bans on Col Gaddafi and his family and aides.

The resolution also referred Col Gaddafi and his inner circle to the International Criminal Court for investigation of crimes against humanity.

But in an interview with a French Sunday newspaper, Col Gaddafi said he would welcome a United Nations or African Union investigation into the violence in the country.

More on This Story

Libya after Gaddafi

More Africa stories

RSS

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.