Libya gains control of more rebel territory

By Liz Sly and Tara Bahrampour
Monday, March 14, 2011; 10:29 AM

TRIPOLI - Libya's government said it had taken over the oil terminal of Brega on Sunday and would press eastward to the rebels' self-styled capital of Benghazi, as Western diplomats remained mixed over intervention in the Libyan crisis.

The takeover of Brega came three days after a similar capture of Ras Lanuf, another oil port 77 miles further west, following heavy bombardment.

"Brega has been liberated," said Col. Milad Hussein, an army spokesman, adding that he did not anticipate a tough battle in Benghazi. He said that the government hopes to resolve the crisis "through reconciliation" with tribal leaders in eastern Libya but that the rebel movement is not proving to be a potent adversary.

"To deal with them you don't need full-scale military action," the Libyan spokesman said. "They are groups of people who, when you come to them, they just raise their hands and go. "

Abdul Fattah Younis, chief of staff of the rebel army and former interior minister in Gaddafi's government, told reporters that rebel forces conducted a strategic retreat from Brega. And he vowed to protect Ajdabiya, the next rebel-held town to the east, 49 miles from Brega.

The government's announcement came as world leaders debated the merits of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent airstrikes by Gaddafi forces.

The Arab League on Saturday endorsed the idea, which is to be discussed by NATO representatives this week. France supports the plan and has officially recognized the opposition government.

But the United States has shied away from a position, fearing an anti-American backlash if it becomes involved in military action in another Muslim country in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton plans to meet with Libyan opposition leaders in Paris on Monday.

Supporters of a no-fly zone fear it may come too late to be useful. The area around Benghazi, the center of rebel command, appeared increasingly unstable over the weekend.

On Saturday, an al-Jazeera cameraman was fatally shot in an apparent ambush outside the city, according to the network, the first report of a journalist killed in Libya since the conflict began.

Ali Hassan al-Jaber, a native of Qatar, was returning to Benghazi from a nearby town after reporting on an opposition protest when the car he was traveling in came under fire, killing him and wounding a colleague.

One of those who fled Brega on Sunday was Yousef Sanoushi, an architect from Brega who was interviewed by phone from Benghazi. "They started the attack at 6 a.m., and it went on during the day," he said. "They were using heavy shelling [and] . . . launching rockets from trucks."

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