Fresh fighting in Libyan towns, NATO split over military ambition

Violence continued on Saturday in parts of Libya, including the eastern oil town of Brega, the western city Misrata and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's hometown Sirte.

An exchange of heavy fire was seen between Libya's government forces and rebels in the east of Brega, where casualties are feared, as the latter were reportedly gearing up to advance into the country's west.

Meanwhile, explosions were heard in rebel-held Misrata, where Human Rights Watch said Friday that Libyan government forces had pounded civilian areas with cluster bombs at least three times. The claim was then denied by government spokesperson Ibrahim Moussa, who said the government would absolutely not use these weapons against its own people.

As pro- and anti-government fighters continued their seesaw battle in major towns across the country, NATO air strikes on Saturday again hit targets in Sirte, some 600 km east of the capital Tripoli, after similar raids the previous day.

NATO's continuous military action came after Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen reiterated on Friday that there was no "purely military solution" to the crisis.

It also followed a two-day NATO foreign minister meeting in Berlin that failed to come up with any viable measures to end the crisis as members remained divided over the scope of the alliance's military campaign.

Countries like Spain, and the United States, which has withdrawn some 50 warplanes from Libya and transferred into a supporting role since handing over control of the mission to NATO, were turning a cold shoulder to France and Britain's pressing call to make a more robust contribution to the joint military actions in Libya.

Although Rasmussen said in Berlin that he was confident that the alliance would "step up to the plate," he failed to give any specific pledges or promises.

Earlier in the week, NATO members were already in discord in the first meeting of the Contact Group on Libya on whether the international community could provide the rebel army with arms.

While Italy favored the idea, many showed disapproval because sending weapons to rebels would violate the rules of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which requested an arms embargo to Libya.

On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama also acknowledged that a stalemate has emerged on the ground in Libya after three weeks of NATO air strikes. But he still expressed the belief that Gaddafi will go in the long term.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Obama said Gaddafi is running out of money and supplies, and "the noose is tightening, and he is becoming more and more isolated."

[Source: Xinhua, Tripoli, 16Apr11]

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