Official: 30 killed in fight for key Libyan city

By Ryan Lucas

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, March 17 2011 7:28 a.m. MDT

American Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice is seen on a television monitor as she speaks to reporters after a Security Council meeting on the situation in Libya, Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo)

The Associated Press

TOBRUK, Libya — Libya's opposition battled to keep Moammar Gadhafi's forces at the gateway to rebel-held territory on Thursday, hoping for help from the U.N. Security Council before his tanks and troops break through the city of Ajdabiya.

A senior hospital official in the city told The Associated Press that 30 people had been killed and at least 80 wounded in the fighting since Tuesday night, and many more of the injured couldn't reach the hospital. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of official retaliation.

Gadhafi's rapid advance on the rebels appears to have spurred the United States to leave behind weeks of doubts about a no-fly zone in Libya, and start advocating for broader U.N. authorization for international air, sea and land forces.

The Obama administration and other supporters of action against Gadhafi were pushing for a Thursday vote on a draft resolution. Russia and China have expressed doubts about the U.N. and other outside powers getting involved.

By Thursday afternoon, Gadhafi's army had surrounded Ajdabiya on three sides, leaving open only the road north to the larger rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Charred vehicles, bullet-riddled pickup trucks and an overturned tank littered the desert highway where pro-Gadhafi forces had fought up to the entrance of Ajdabiya, a city of 140,000. Government troops were bringing in a stream of truckloads of ammunition, rockets and supplies.

A rebel spokesman told The Associated Press that Benghazi, 100 miles (160 kilometers) to the north along the Mediterranean coast, was "armed to the teeth" and the opposition is ready to defend it.

More checkpoints were popping up at intersections and on main roads, manned by men in uniform armed with Ak-47s and backed by anti-aircraft guns mounted on pickup trucks.

A Benghazi resident who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals said the city's young men were volunteering to undergo basic military training. Those already trained were seeking more preparation to be battle ready.

Rebel spokesman Mustafa Gheriani said that the government tried to hit Benghazi's airport with an airstrike but missed.

The Red Cross said it was leaving Benghazi because of deteriorating security and moving to the city of Tobruk, further east.

Gheriani said by telephone from Benghazi that the opposition was hoping for a positive U.N. Security Council vote but "if not, we'll rely on ourselves and do what we can."

The U.S. wants the Security Council to approve planes, troops or ships to stop attacks by Gadhafi on the rebels, according to a diplomat familiar with closed-door negotiations Wednesday.

The Obama administration said it would not act without Security Council authorization, did not want to put U.S. ground troops into Libya, and insists on broad international participation, especially by Arab states, the diplomat said.

A resident told the AP that Ajdabiya had been hit by hours of airstrikes but it was not clear if the government or rebels, who say they have at least three planes, are carrying them out.

"Gadhafi troops have not invaded the city on foot until now," said Moataz al-Ghariani, who lives in downtown Ajdabiya and is in touch with the rebels. "They are only imposing a siege from three fronts: the western, the southern and the eastern. No one can leave and no one can enter."

He said the rebels were surrounding a unit of Gadhafi forces at the eastern gates of the city.

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Michael reported from Cairo. Anita Snow and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.

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