Gadhafi tanks probe rebel city as son is buried

May 3, 2011 12:00 am

, Libya, May 3 –  Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moamer Gadhafi have launched a new armoured incursion into the besieged rebel city Misrata as his son, killed in a NATO-led air strike, was buried in Tripoli.

AFP correspondents heard heavy shelling throughout the morning Monday as loyalist tanks thrust into the western suburbs of Libya\’s third largest city.

At least four people were killed and some 30 wounded in the fighting, medical sources said. Clashes overnight had killed another six and wounded dozens more.

"The tanks are in Al-Ghiran and Zawiyat Al-Mahjub and have been halted by our men," a rebel commander said.

One or more NATO aircraft flew over the city for more than two hours, but no air strikes were heard.

Residents expressed exasperation at the lack of a military response from the Western alliance to Gadhafi\’s armour.

"NATO has to help us. What are they waiting for?" implored one.

Unlike on previous days of the more than six-week-long siege of Misrata, the resident declined to give his name — an indication of the mounting fear in the city that Gadhafi\’s forces are poised to retake it.

The last major rebel bastion in western Libya, Misrata is surrounded by pro-Kadhafi forces and entirely dependent on supply by sea.

NATO forces were searching for a rogue anti-ship mine laid by Gadhafi forces near Misrata last week, the alliance said. Four small boats were caught dropping three mines off the port last week, but only two were found and disarmed.

Rockets and shells again targeted Misrata in the evening, and heavy explosions were heard in the port area.

In the capital, more than 1,000 people attended funerals for Gadhafi\’s second youngest son and three of the leader\’s grandchildren.

Regime spokesman Mussa Ibrahim told reporters that Seif al-Arab Gadhafi was killed in an air strike on a Tripoli compound over the weekend. The grandchildren who died in the attack were a boy and a girl, both aged two, and a baby girl of four months.

No small coffins had been immediately visible at the procession in Al-Hani cemetery, where some mourners fired guns in the air and chanted pro-Gadhafi slogans.

"Revenge for martyrs! People want Moamer, the guide!" the crowd chanted as the body of Seif al-Arab, covered in a green cloth with a wreath on top, was carried for burial.

Crowds also chanted slogans against French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who early on led the international campaign against Gadhafi.

The funeral was attended by Catholic Bishop Giovanni Martinelli, who has been critical of international coalition air strikes on pro-Gadhafi forces.

Ibrahim had said Gadhafi and his wife had been in the building during the strike, which he called "a direct operation to assassinate the leader."

But neither Gadhafi nor his wife were harmed, he said.

Demonstrators torched vacant British and Italian diplomatic buildings in Tripoli in response to the raid, prompting Britain to expel Libya\’s ambassador.

A Transitional National Council statement in rebel stronghold Benghazi slammed the burnings, saying: "This is a clear sign that Gadhafi does not respect international law."

The rebels also welcomed the death of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and said it would be "a great gift" if the United States now killed Gadhafi.

Italy has boosted security checks after Gadhafi threatened to "bring the battle to Italy" following Rome\’s decision to join the NATO-led air strikes.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi sought to play down the threats, attributing them to Gadhafi\’s "disappointment" in Italy, Libya\’s former colonial ruler.

Turkey closed its embassy late on Sunday following the attacks on the British and Italian diplomatic missions, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.

The Western alliance vowed more strikes, although the operation commander stated "we do not target individuals."

"All NATO\’s targets are military in nature and have been clearly linked to the… regime\’s systematic attacks on the Libyan population and populated areas," said Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard.

He said raids would continue until threats against civilians ceased and all of Gadhafi\’s forces "have verifiably withdrawn to their bases, and until there is full, free and unhindered access to humanitarian aid to all those in Libya who need it."

China renewed its call for a ceasefire and urged NATO not to exceed the terms of the UN Security Council resolution that provided for military action to protect civilians.

 Venezuela asked the United Nations to condemn the killing of Gadhafi\’s and grandchildren, as it demanded an end to raids on the country.

An international coalition began carrying out strikes on March 19 under the UN Security Council mandate. NATO took command of operations on March 31.

Switzerland said it had frozen 830 million francs ($960 million/646 million euros) in funds belonging to north African strongmen since the start of this year\’s popular uprisings.

Most of the blocked funds — 410 million francs — are linked to former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his associates. But 360 million francs blocked by Switzerland are believed to belong to the Gadhafi regime.


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