Gaddafi vows to resist NATO strikes

Libyan leader brands NATO "murderers" after civilian casualties lead Italy and the Arab League to press for ceasefire.

    NATO acknowledged on Sunday that an air strike in Tripoli had killed several civilians [Reuters]

    Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has accused NATO of murder and said his regime has its "back to the wall", three days after a NATO air strike on a house in Tripoli killed civilians.

    "We will resist and the battle will continue to the beyond, until you're wiped out. But we will not be finished," Gaddafi said in an audio tape broadcast on state television on Wednesday night.

    "You said, 'we hit our targets with precision', you murderers ... One day we will respond to you likewise and your homes will be legitimate targets."

    Gaddafi, who referred to the June 19 strike specifically, called the NATO campaign a "crusade" against a Muslim country.

    "We will stay, we will resist and we will not give in. Strike with your missiles, two, three, 10 or 100 years," he said.

    US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said there was no doubt that Gaddafi's men had "their backs against the wall."

    Clinton said Libya's opposition was making very clear progress on the ground in Libya.

    Civilian deaths have raised serious misgivings about the UN-authorised NATO intervention in Libya among the most ardent supporters of the ongoing air campaign.

    Italy's foreign minister and the outgoing head of the Arab League have each called for a halt to hostilities in the war-torn North African country.

    Franco Frattini told members of parliament on Wednesday that the suspension of military operations in Libya was "essential" for immediate humanitarian aid, while Amr Moussa, the Arab League chief, called for a political solution to the crisis.

    France expressed a different view, saying the military operations should be "intensified".

    "Any pause in operations would risk allowing him to play for time and to reorganise. In the end, it would be the civilian population that would suffer from the smallest sign of weakness on our behalf," Bernard Valero, a French foreign ministry spokesman, said.

    'Strikes to continue'

    On Wednesday night, NATO warplanes were believed to be bombing a government ammunition depot near the city of Zintan, according to Al Jazeera's James Bays, reporting from a vantage point dozens of kilometres from the front line.

    Explosions could be heard every 30 to 40 seconds, he said.

    "Everyone talks about stalemate in Libya, but actually quietly there's been some very steady progress here in the Nafousa Mountains in the western part of Libya," he said.

    "Here, the opposition has very slowly pressed forward, they've taken villages, they've taken towns ... it appears that NATO realises that."


    Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO chief, said on Wednesday that the alliance would continue its operations in Libya.


    "NATO will continue this mission because if we stop, countless more civilians could lose their lives," Rasmussen said in a video statement on the NATO website.

    Rasmussen also addressed charges that NATO caused civilian deaths in recent air raids.

    "Since the start of this mission we have conducted over 5,000 strikes sorties, and as our record shows we have taken utmost care to minimise the risk of civilian casualties and we continue to do that every day and every hour," he said.

    "I deeply regret any loss of life in this conflict."

    Moussa's 'misgivings'

    In an interview to Britain's Guardian newspaper published on Tuesday, Moussa, the outgoing head of the Arab League, said the time was ripe for a political solution in Libyan.

    The Egyptian diplomat, who played a central role in securing Arab support for NATO air strikes, also voiced reservations about the bombing campaign after seeing civilian casualties.

    "When I see children being killed, I must have misgivings. That's why I warned about the risk of civilian casualties," Moussa said.

    Moussa said the military campaign would not produce a breakthrough. "You can't have a decisive ending. Now is the time to do whatever we can to reach a political solution," he said.

    "That has to start with a genuine ceasefire under international supervision. Until the ceasefire, Gaddafi would remain in office ... Then there would be a move to a transitional period … to reach an understanding about the future of Libya."

    Asked whether that meant a halt to the NATO air raids, he said: "A ceasefire is a ceasefire."

    Moussa's sentiment was shared by the Italian foreign minister, who called for urgent humanitarian aid to be delivered to trapped residents in cities like Tripoli and Misurata. 

    He said the people in those areas faced a "dramatic" humanitarian situation and added that a suspension of hostilities would also avoid "consolidating a division of Libya" between east and west.

    He said he hoped the European Council in Brussels on Thursday would highlight an end to the fighting in Libya as "a practical solution".  

    Frattini warned earlier this week that NATO's accidental killing of civilians in an air strike was endangering the alliance's credibility in the eyes of the world.

    "With regard to NATO, it is fair to ask for increasingly detailed information on results as well as precise guidelines on the dramatic errors involving civilians," he said.

    "This is clearly not part of NATO's mission."

    Libya is a former Italian colony and Silvio Berlusconi's government had enjoyed close ties with the government of Gaddafi.

    Italy was initially cautious in its reaction to the crackdown by the Libyan leader but has since played a key role in the NATO-led military operation by offering the use of its air bases to conduct air raids.

    NATO launched its air campaign in Libya to protect civilians from a brutal crackdown launched by Gaddafi's regime in response to an uprising against his four-decades long rule.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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