With escalating hostilities bringing Libya closer to civil war, Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi’s forces struck back at his opponents on three fronts, with special forces, regular army and, rebels said, fighter jets.
But the rebels dismissed the attacks Monday as ineffectual, and Colonel Gaddafi faced a growing international campaign to force him from power.
As the Pentagon began repositioning Navy warships to support a possible humanitarian or military intervention, secretary of state Hillary Clinton bluntly told the Libyan leader to surrender power “now, without further violence or delay.”
The attacks by the colonel’s troops on an oil refinery in central Libya and on cities on either side of the country unsettled rebel leaders — who have maintained that they are close to liberating the country — and showed that despite defections by the military, the government may still possess powerful assets, including fighter pilots willing to bomb Libyan cities.
But as Western powers debate the possible imposition of a so-called no-fly zone Russia ruled out the idea on Tuesday, as “superfluous.”
Rebel leaders in Libya said the latest attacks by Colonel Gaddafi’s supporters smacked of desperation, and the ease with which at least one assault, on the western city of Zawiyah, was repelled raised questions about the ability of the government to muster a serious challenge to the rebels’ growing power.
In an interview with ABC News, Colonel Gaddafi said he was fighting against “terrorists,” and he accused the West of seeking to “occupy Libya.” He gave no hint of surrender. “My people love me,” he said. “They would die for me.”