Libya: NATO hits oil port of Ras Lanouf

By Maggie Michael

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, May 15 2011 12:10 p.m. MDT

Children wave pre Moammar-Gadhafi flags during a demonstration in Benghazi, Libya, Saturday, May 14, 2011.

Rodrigo Abd, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

TRIPOLI, Libya — NATO aircraft blasted an oil terminal in a key eastern city at nightfall Sunday, Libyan TV reported, after Britain urged the alliance to widen its assault on areas controlled by ruler Moammar Gadhafi.

The Libya TV report said the bombs hit methanol tanks at the oil port of Ras Lanouf, causing leaks. NATO officials had no immediate comment.

The reported attack came as the Libyan conflict appeared largely stalemated, with each side claiming gains one day, only to be turned back the next.

Libyan rebels said Sunday they have taken full control of the western port city of Misrata, 125 miles (200 kilometers) from Tripoli, the only major city in western Libya with a significant rebel toehold. The rebel claim could not be confirmed.

In Misrata, rebel fighter Abdel Salam described the situation in Misrata as static.

"The situation is almost frozen, as the rebels are in full control over Misrata," he said. "The rebels are not engaged in any major fighting fronts with Gadhafi forces."

The two sides have been battling intensively over Misrata, symbolic because of its location near Gadhafi's capital. His forces shelled the city heavily and at some points took up positions inside Misrata neighborhoods to fire at civilians and fighters, while avoiding NATO airstrikes. Rebels and residents say Gadhafi forces remain at the edges of the town.

More than 1,000 people died in Misrata in the fighting and shelling.

Salam denied earlier reports suggesting that that rebels were advancing toward the western city of Zlitan, which would be the next step on the road to Tripoli.

"The rebels agreed that it is better not to move forward or open new fronts," he said.

He added, "It will be a big risk to advance. Anything could happen and cost us heavy causalities. This is not the right decision to take right now."

The head of Britain's armed forces, Gen. David Richards, appeared to relate to the stalemate and frustration in the West over the slow pace of warfare in Libya, with Gadhafi still in power, able to taunt NATO for failing to unseat him.

In remarks published in The Sunday Telegraph in London, Richards urged NATO to widen the range of targets the alliance's planes are allowed to hit in the effort to stymie the Gadhafi's regime's attacks on protesters. Richards declared that "more intense military action" was needed or the conflict could end in stalemate.

While refusing to comment on the reported attack on Ras Lanouf, which is about halfway between Tripoli and the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya, a NATO spokesman in Naples who declined to give his name said there was a NATO airstrike at about midday Sunday near Zawara, 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Tunisian border. He said it was a strike on a pro-Gadhafi military position where there was equipment being used to target civilians.

Tunisia's TAP news agency said that NATO planes bombed barracks and radar installations in the Libyan town of Boukamache, about 11 miles (17 kilometers) from the Tunisian border.

Libyans have been pouring from Boukamache across to Tunisia via the Ras Jdir border post, the report said.

Detonations could be heard from the Ras Jdir border post, where the Tunisian army has been in a state of alert since Saturday after a blackout on the Libyan side.

TAP also reported that Tunisian forces on Saturday thwarted a push by 200 of Gadhafi forces aboard some 50 off-road vehicles into Tunisian territory.

Libyans have been trying to enter Tunisia in a bid to retake the strategic Dhehiba border crossing, controlled by Libyan rebels for the past few weeks. The Tunisian military sent tanks, armored vehicles and reinforcement troops to the area in response, TAP reported.

An activist in the far-western town of Zintan said pro-Gadhafi forces shelled the area late Saturday.

Since rebels captured the crossing on April 21, Gadhafi loyalists have repeatedly tried to retake it, but the rebels have held their ground.

The activist said shells or missiles also were fired at the nearby town of Rujban. He said he was a witness to the shelling that smashed part of a cemetery and a science building. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, and his report could not be independently confirmed.

Also Sunday, International Criminal Court prosecutors are putting the final touches to their case against three Libyan leaders on charges of murder and persecution in the brutal crackdown on anti-government rebels.

Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo will file a 74-page document with nine annexes outlining the allegations and seeking arrest warrants for the three Libyan leaders considered most responsible for the atrocities.

Moreno-Ocampo has not disclosed the names of the three, but Gadhafi is widely expected to be among them.

Michael reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Bouazza ben Bouazza contributed to this story from Tunis.

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