TRIPOLI—The Libyan opposition capital Benghazi was calm on Wednesday evening after a deadline set by Muammar Gaddafi’s army in an apparent threat of attack passed without incident, residents said.
Libyan television said the ultimatum warned the population to avoid rebel-held buildings and weapons dumps after midnight local time (2200 GMT) because the army was coming “to support you and to cleanse your city from armed gangs.”
Benghazi residents poured scorn on the announcement. Several recent reports on Libyan television have not been borne out. It said on Tuesday that pro-Gaddafi masses were rallying in the city, which residents said never happened.
“This is psychological warfare,” said resident Faiza Ali, contacted by telephone.
Jibril al-Huweidi, doctor at al-Jalaa Hospital in Benghazi confirmed the city was quiet.
“Some ambulances are shuttling between Benghazi and Ajdabiya,” he said, referring to a city further west where loyalist and opposition forces clashed again on Wednesday.
“They could not have made it repeatedly back and forth tonight if the evil forces were closing in on Benghazi.”
Gaddafi himself seemed to undercut the ultimatum on his state-run Al-Libya television by telling Lebanon’s LBC TV he did not expect a battle in Benghazi, where he said Libyan people have been helping get rid of “Al Qaeda” elements.
The ultimatum appeared as a text on the screen of Al-Libya television telling inhabitants of the eastern city that the army was coming.
“It urges you to keep out by midnight of areas where the armed men and weapon storage areas are located,” it said.
In New York, anti-Gaddafi Libyan diplomat, Ibrahim Dabbashi, told reporters that the international community had 10 hours to act against Gaddafi’s troops.
“We think that … in the coming hours, we will see a real genocide in Ajdabiyah if the international community does not move quickly and prevent him from attacking it with a large force,” he said.
Libyan rebels fought back against Gaddafi’s troops around the eastern town of Ajdabiyah on Wednesday, hampering their push toward Benghazi. Government forces captured Ajdabiyah, 90 miles
Meanwhile, Libyan rebels battled to hold a strategic eastern city against a punishing offensive by forces loyal Gadhafi on Wednesday, voicing anger and frustration at the West for not coming to their aid. At the same time, government troops heavily shelled the last main rebel bastion near the capital.
Charred vehicles, bullet-riddled pickup trucks and an overturned tank littered the desert highway where pro-Gadhafi forces had fought up to the entrance of the key eastern city of Ajdabiya. An Associated Press Television News cameraman counted at least three bodies by the side of the road, evidence of fierce battles. Government troops were bringing in a stream of truckloads of ammunition, rockets and supplies — signs of an intensified effort by the Libyan leader to retake control of the country he has ruled with an iron fist for more than four decades.
The rebels lashed out at the West as the latest international effort to impose a no-fly zone over Libya stumbled along. Supporters in the U.N. Security Council were trying to push through a resolution to impose such a move along with other measures aimed at preventing Gadhafi from bombing his people, but Russia and Germany have expressed doubts.
“People are fed up. They are waiting impatiently for an international move,” said Saadoun al-Misrati, a rebel spokesman in the city of Misrata, the last rebel-held city in western Libya, which came under heavy shelling Wednesday.
“What Gadhafi is doing, he is exploiting delays by international community. People are very angry that no action is being taken against Gadhafi’s weaponry.”