Libya says NATO ‘planning raids’ on Tunisia border


NATO is planning raids on Ras Jedir, a border post with Tunisia, to open the way to a rebel advance, Libya’s government spokesman said on Sunday.

“We have information that NATO is planning intensive bombardments of the Ras Jedir border post to help the armed bands, some of whom are positioned on the Tunisian side, to enter Libyan territory,” Mussa Ibrahim told AFP.

He described the North Atlantic alliance’s intentions as “very dangerous,” pointing out that Ras Jedir was a crossing point for “thousands of Libyans, including women and children.”

“By bombing it, NATO will be committing a new massacre,” Mr. Ibrahim said, warning against an “illegal act.”

He declared: “We salute the Tunisian government and we encourage it to make more efforts for Tunisia not to transform itself into a departure point for aggression against Libya.

“We salute the Tunisian people who have prevented the unloading of a cargo of arms” destined for Libyan rebels in the south Tunisian port of Zarzis, he went on.

Mr. Ibrahim called on the United Nations to “denounce and condemn the arms traffic to Libya from Tunisia, which violates UN (Security Council) resolutions 1970 and 1973.”

The Ras Jedir frontier post has for several months been the only exit point for the Libyan regime of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, hit by international sanctions.

Tunisian Interior Minister Habib Essid had on Thursday denied that arms from Qatar for the Libyan opposition were passing through his country, though he admitted that “the security situation is still fragile” and “police patrols are insufficient.”

Qatar, which is part of the international military operation against the Qaddafi regime, finances one of the refugee camps in Tunisia which has a hospital at Tataouine in the south and access to which is controlled by the Tunisian army.

On Saturday, opposition fighters clashed with Libyan government forces near the Tunisian border and in the western town of Zawiyah, threatening a vital supply route to the Libyan capital Tripoli.

The two sides also fought on two eastern fronts, but neither side reported major changes in positions near Misrata or round the oil town and terminal of Brega.

Reporters heard gunfire and skirmishing in the coastal town of Zawiyah, about 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli, on Saturday and the highway from the capital to the Tunisian border, control of which could determine the outcome of the Libyan conflict, was blocked.

Opposition fighters hope to capture Zawiyah, an oil refinery town, and cut off Colonel Qaddafi’s stronghold in the capital from access to the outside world by severing the coastal highway, a lifeline for the embattled government.

They advanced north to within 25 km (15 miles) of Zawiyah early on Saturday, after what they said was a six-hour battle which pushed the front line closer to Tripoli, and later said they had fought their way into the the centre of Zawiyah.

The government confirmed fighting in the area but said a rebel attempt to capture the city had been beaten back.

Zawiyah is “absolutely under our control,” Mr. Ibrahim said.

“A very small group of rebels tried to move into the south of Zawiyah but were stopped easily because of our armed forces,” he said.

But a rebel spokesman, Mohammed Ezzawi, speaking from inside Zawiyah, said the rebel force was about 800 meters from Martyrs' Square in the city centre.

Judging by impact craters, wrecked buildings and burnt-out tanks, NATO warplanes had bombed government military targets on the route of the western rebel advance to Zawiyah over the past week, providing close air support.

Zawiyah is the home town of many opposition fighters battling on the western front and has staged two uprisings against Colonel Qaddafi since the revolt against his four-decade rule broke out in February.