LIBYA—U.S. President Barack Obama warned Libya’s leaders that the U.S. and its NATO allies are still considering military options in response to what he called “unacceptable” violence perpetrated by supporters of Gadhafi.
“I want to send a very clear message to those who are around Colonel Gadhafi. It is their choice to make how they operate moving forward. And they will be held accountable for whatever violence continues to take place,” Obama said during remarks in the Oval Office Monday.
Libyan warplanes launched multiple airstrikes on opposition fighters in the second day of a government crackdown to thwart rebels advancing on Gadhafi’s stronghold in Tripoli.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said a military response was no more likely Monday than it was before the surge in violence. He said the U.S. and its partners are considering a wide variety of military actions, including a no-fly zone, but said deploying ground troops “is not top of the list at this point.”
Carney said the U.S. is also considering providing weapons to rebel forces, though he cautioned that there were still many unanswered questions about what groups comprise those forces. He said the U.S. is using diplomatic channels, as well as contacts in the business community and non-governmental organizations, to gather information about the opposition.
Obama said he has also authorized $15 million in humanitarian aid to help international and non-governmental organizations assist and evacuate people fleeing the violence in Libya. More than 200,000 people have fled the country, most of them foreign workers, creating a humanitarian crisis across the border with Tunisia — another North African country in turmoil after an uprising in January that ousted its longtime leader.
Hundreds if not thousands of people have died since Libya’s uprising began, although tight restrictions on media make it nearly impossible to get an accurate tally.
The U.S. and United Nations have imposed sanctions on Gadhafi’s regime, and U.S. military forces have also moved closer to Libya’s shores to back up demands that Gadhafi step down.
Obama spoke alongside Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who is in Washington for meetings.
A force estimated at 500 to 1,000 fighters was pushing steadily down the highway toward Tripoli when it was driven out of the town of Bin Jawwad, 375 east of the capital, on Sunday by pro-Gadhafi forces using helicopter gunships, artillery and rockets. The fighting killed at least eight people and wounded 59, according to medical officials.
The rebels regrouped about 40 miles to the east in Ras Lanouf, where MiG fighters circled over rebel positions Monday before launching airstrikes behind their front lines in the morning and afternoon.
In and around Bin Jawwad, pro-regime forces were running patrols Monday and there were minor reports of skirmishes with rebels on the outskirts.
One strike hit a road near the town’s only gas station, destroying at least three vehicles and wounding at least two people.
The opposition also holds two main battleground cities close to Tripoli, and the government appears to have solidified control Monday of one of them — Zawiya. Just 30 miles outside Tripoli, Zawiya had been the city closest to the capital in opposition hands.
A Zawiya resident said government tanks and artillery opened fire on rebels around 9 a.m. and the attack hadn’t stopped when he left the city at 1:30 p.m. All entrances to the city were under government control and the rebels had been driven out of the city’s central Martyr’s Square and a nearby mosque by the heaviest attack in several days.
“The tanks are everywhere,” he said. “The hospital is running out of supplies. There are injured everywhere who can’t find a place to go.”
Rebels also held much of Misrata, to the east of Tripoli about halfway to Sirte. But Valerie Amos, United Nations under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said in a statement that the Benghazi Red Crescent reported that Misrata was under attack by government forces again Monday. There have been repeated government attempts to regain control of Misrata.
“Humanitarian organizations need urgent access now,” she said. “People are injured and dying and need help immediately.”
The uprising against Gadhafi is already longer and much bloodier than the relatively quick revolts that overthrew the longtime authoritarian leaders of neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia.
Unusually heavy and sustained shooting that erupted before dawn in Tripoli on Sunday gave rise to rumours and reports that there had been an assassination attempt against Gadhafi by someone inside the fortress-like barracks where he lives.
But a government spokesman, Abdel-Majid al-Dursi, denied it on Monday, calling the claims “baseless rumours.”
Hundreds if not thousands of people have died since Libya’s uprising began, although tight restrictions on media make it near impossible to get an accurate tally. More than 200,000 people have fled the country, most of them foreign workers. The exodus is creating a humanitarian crisis across the border with Tunisia — another North African country in turmoil after an uprising in January that ousted its longtime leader.
The turmoil is being felt more broadly still in the form of rising oil prices. Libya’s oil production has been seriously crippled by the unrest.
The conflict in Libya took a turn late last week when government opponents, backed by mutinous army units and armed with weaponry seized from storehouses, went on the offensive. At the same time, pro-Gadhafi forces have conducted counteroffensives to try to retake the towns and oil ports the rebels have captured since they moved out of the rebel-held east.