Libya: NATO hits oil port of Ras Lanouf

By Maggie Michael

Associated Press

Published: Monday, May 16 2011 12:20 a.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 have blasted an oil terminal in a key eastern city in a nightfall strike, Libyan TV reported, after Britain urged the alliance to widen its assault on areas controlled by ruler Moammar Gadhafi.

Libya's deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim sharply condemned that call, describing it as a "provocation."

The Libya TV report said NATO bombs on Sunday 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 intensely 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 city.

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

The rebel fighter denied earlier reports suggesting 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.

Kaim, the deputy foreign minister, said Richards' call was emblematic of the international alliance's attacks, which he said have gone beyond the UN mandate that initially authorized them.

"This threat is aimed at terrorizing civilians," he said early Monday in a late-night discussion with reporters in the Libyan capital.

Kaim also said the NATO strikes were aimed at killing Gadhafi. However, "those attempts to kill the leader are a complete waste of time," he said.

Gadhafi has rarely been seen or heard since a strike killed his son on April 30. He briefly showed up on state-run television and on another day he issued a minute-long voice message.

Kaim said Gadhafi was "still the leader of the country — but not in charge of day-to-day business."

The call to widen the NATO strikes on Libya came as International Criminal Court prosecutors put the final touches on their case against three Libyan leaders on charges of murder and persecution in the brutal crackdown on anti-government rebels.

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