Libya, Mar 17 – Libyan strongman Moamer Gadhafi said his forces would fight a "decisive battle" Thursday, as Washington added its voice to efforts at the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone.
Gadhafi\’s latest comments came after his forces pressed rebels in the west on Wednesday and threatened their eastern bastion of Benghazi, despite calls from UN chief Ban Ki-moon for an immediate ceasefire.
"The battle starts today (Wednesday) at Misrata and tomorrow, that will be the decisive battle," Gadhafi was quoted as saying by state television, referring to Libya\’s third city, which has a population of half a million.
"From this evening, you are going to be called to take up arms and tomorrow you will take part in the battle," he added in an address to a group of young people from Misrata, according to the television report.
Gadhafi urged his audience "not to leave Misrata hostage in the hands of a handful of madmen."
On Tuesday, Libyan state television said the army would soon move against Benghazi, and on Wednesday, Gadhafi\’s son Seif al-Islam predicted that everything would be over in 48 hours.
A rebel spokesman in Misrata, which lies 150 kilometres (90 miles) from the capital Tripoli, said Wednesday that opposition forces had beaten back an attack by Gadhafi loyalists, but that four people were killed and 10 wounded.
In Zintan, meanwhile, the first western town to go over to the opposition, a witness said "things were starting" there.
And over to the east, witnesses in Ajdabiya, the gateway to Benghazi, said fighting was still under way there. Government sources continued to insist that it had fallen on Tuesday.
A doctor told AFP by telephone that fighting was still raging on Wednesday in and around Ajdabiya, which also guards the road to Tobruk and the Egyptian border in the rebel-held east.
"We received four bodies today, all rebel fighters," Abdelkarim Mohammed said, adding that 22 dead, mainly civilians killed by artillery or air strikes, had been brought in on Tuesday.
As talks resumed in the divided UN Security Council, Ban spokesman Martin Nesirky said the secretary general was "gravely concerned" about signs that Kadhafi was preparing to attack Benghazi.
"A campaign to bombard such an urban centre would massively place civilian lives at risk," he said.
"The secretary general is urging all parties in this conflict to accept an immediate ceasefire…," he added.
The Red Cross announced Wednesday it was moving its staff in Benghazi eastwards to Tobruk until security improved, handing food and other relief provisions to the local Red Crescent society.
A day earlier, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders, MSF) pulled its staff out of Benghazi.
In Cairo on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "We want to do what we can to protect innocent Libyans against the marauders let loose by the Kadhafi regime."
But she stopped short of explicitly backing a no-fly zone, saying it was one of several options under consideration.
She did however say that the Arab League\’s endorsement of action against one of its own members, including a no-fly zone, had made an impact on the views of the major powers on the Security Council.
Hours later, at the United Nations in New York, the US position appeared to have hardened against Gadhafi.
Washington joined Britain and France in pressing for a Security Council vote Thursday on a no-fly zone to halt Kadhafi\’s attacks.
US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said that action might have to "go beyond a no-fly zone at this point, as the situation on the ground has evolved, and as a no-fly zone has inherent limitations in terms of protection of civilians at immediate risk."
Britain, France and Lebanon, on behalf of the Arab League, have been seeking to overcome resistance to a no-fly zone.
"What we want to do is move as fast as possible and we will be stressing the urgency of the need for action this morning," British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said in New York.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in a letter to the leaders of the other countries on the 15-nation council, said: "Together, we can save the martyred people of Libya. It is now a matter of days, if not hours."
But German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said "we have no wish to and we cannot take sides in a north African civil war."
A no-fly zone would amount to military action and ground forces could be needed as a follow up if it failed.
"We do not wish to start down a path which would eventually lead to German soldiers taking part in a war in Libya," Westerwelle said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has requested more information from Arab states on how a no-fly zone would be policed.
China, which like Russia wields a veto on the Security Council, has also expressed reservations about any intervention.
The two-part draft resolution calls for a no-fly zone and toughened sanctions against the Gadhafi regime, according to diplomats at the United Nations, which says the conflict has cost more than 1,000 lives.
In New York, deputy Libyan UN ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi warned that "in the coming hours we will see a real genocide if the international community does not act quickly."