UN seeks halt in Libya fighting to allow aid delivery

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos has asked all sides in the fighting in Libya for a pause in hostilities to allow food, water, medical supplies and other aid to be delivered to needy populations.
New recruits to fight against Moammar Gadhafi's troops train in Benghazi, Libya, Monday. (Rodrigo Abd/Associated Press)

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos has asked all sides in the fighting in Libya for a pause in hostilities to allow food, water, medical supplies and other aid to be delivered to needy populations.

She told the Security Council the pause would also allow humanitarian workers to evacuate people from other countries who still remain in Libya and would give civilians a respite.

A new recruit loyal to the Libyan rebel fighters makes the V-sign during training in Benghazi, Libya, Monday. (Rodrigo Abd/Associated Press)
Rebels battling Moammar Gadhafi's forces on a deadlocked frontline in eastern Libya welcomed the first supply ship in five days to reach the besieged  western port city of Misrata.

Heavy fighting was reported Monday south of Ajdabiya, a rebel-held town about 150 kilometres south of Benghazi, the rebel headquarters in the east.

Hundreds of rebels gathered at a checkpoint outside Ajdabiya Monday afternoon, when an AP photographer counted about 100 pickup trucks coming back from the front, each carrying four or five fighters and some with mounted submachine guns.

The rebels, firing their weapons into the air as they shouted and danced, said they had been told that NATO was going to launch air strikes at Gadhafi's forces and they had been ordered to withdraw temporarily from the front.

No overall casualty figures were available. Two ambulances came to the local hospital, and doctors said they carried the bodies of four rebels.

The cobbled-together rebel army — comprised of some deserters from Gadhafi's forces and many civilians — has been bogged down for weeks in the area around Ajdabiya, unable to move on to the oil town of Brega. The rebels say their weapons cannot reach more than about 20 kilometres while Gadhafi's forces can fire rockets and shells up to twice that distance. Brega has an oil terminal and Libya's second-largest hydrocarbon complex.

Rebels plead for heavier arms

Rebel pleas for heavier arms from abroad have not met any response, although NATO is carrying out air strikes on regime forces as many countries intensify their call for Gadhafi — Libya's autocratic ruler for 42 years — to leave power.

The rebels now control most of eastern Libya, and Gadhafi most of the west, including the capital, Tripoli. Exceptions in the west include pockets of embattled rebel-held towns along the border with Tunisia, and Misrata on the coast.

A ship carrying medical supplies and baby food was able to dock in Misrata on Monday, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

It was the first ship to arrive since Wednesday, when Gadhafi's forces fired a barrage of rockets into the port as the International Organization of Migration was evacuating nearly 1,000 people, mainly African migrant workers.

On Saturday, a rocket attack set the city's main fuel depot ablaze, destroying the main supply for vehicles, ships and generators powering hospitals and other key sites in a city darkened by electricity cuts.

The ICRC said it would use the chartered ship as a floating platform as its team works to reduce the danger of unexploded weapons on the streets of Misrata, visit prisoners detained by the rebels and help reunite families that lost contact when the city centre was bombed.

The ship brought in 8,000 jars of baby food as well as urgently needed surgical instruments and medical dressings.

Misuse of Red Cross symbol?

The ship docked safely though Gadhafi's forces were seen dropping mines into the port on Saturday, from a white helicopter painted with a red cross, according to rebel spokesman Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga and Misrata residents.

The ICRC said it was concerned by those allegations of "a serious misuse of the emblem" designated by the Geneva Conventions to be used solely by people providing medical or other humanitarian aid.

A civilian spokesman for the rebels in Misrata, lawyer Abdulbaset Abumzirig, said Sunday that 30 to 40 people are injured daily and 10 to 15 are being killed by the bombardment. The city has been under siege for two months, and local doctors say the total death toll is more than 1,000.

In Tripoli, a Muslim member of Britain's House of Lords warned of "genocide" if Libya's chaos continues, Lord Nazir Ahmed said he feared that if Gadhafi's forces seized control of areas currently ruled by rebels — or vice versa — there could be widespread revenge killings.

"God forbid if any one side wins — for instance, if the government takes control of Benghazi, what would happen to all those rebels?" he said. "And if they [the rebels] win, what will happen to the government supporters?"

Ahmed spoke before a meeting with Libyan tribal chiefs as a part of a two-day private fact finding mission. He said he would seek to visit rebel-ruled eastern Libya soon.

Jordan freezes Libyan assets

Meanwhile, a Jordanian finance official says the kingdom has frozen Libyan assets totalling about $500 million. Jordan also has frozen Libyan investments, mainly in the Amman Stock Exchange, of about $782 million.

The official says the freeze took effect five weeks ago in line with a UN Security Council request. He says it was not acknowledged to the press earlier because authorities were trying to locate all targeted Libyan assets.

The official insisted on anonymity Monday, citing the sensitivity of the information.

Libya's Gadhafi is a fiery critic of Jordan because of its alliance with the U.S. and diplomatic ties with Israel.

Jordan is helping to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya.