Libyan warplane strikes outside rebel-held base

2011-03-04 08:50

Ajdabiyah, Libya – A Libyan warplane bombed just beyond the walls of a military base used to store massive amounts of ammunition and now held by rebels in the eastern town of Ajdabiyah today but did not hit it, rebels said.

“We were sat here, heard the jet, then the explosion and the earth shook. They fell outside the walls,” Hassan Faraj, who was guarding an ammunitions store at the Haniyeh base, said.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s air force mounted a similar attack on the facility earlier this week, hitting in and around the base but not striking anything of significance.

The base comprises 35 bunkers.

Earlier this week, this correspondent was shown one bunker packed with some 10 000 tons of ammunition.

Warplanes raided eastern towns yesterday after launching a ground assault on Brega on Wednesday that rebels repulsed.

One rebel Libyan military officer, a defector from Gaddafi’s armed forces, said earlier this week he believed the warplanes had missed on purpose because their pilots did not want to kill fellow Libyans.

Another rebel volunteer, Aziz Saleh, said two rockets had been fired in Friday’s attack.

They had landed just outside the walls of the base, he said. “I saw it myself, there were two rockets,” he said.

Weapons dump fears

Rebels guarding the base have expressed fears that a hit on the weapons dumps there would cause damage for miles around.

Ahmed Jabreel, an aide to ex-justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil who heads the council now based in Benghazi, said air strikes to set up a “no-fly” zone were needed to help rebels topple Gaddafi, who has refused to step down despite a revolt.

The council has called for UN-backed air strikes against what they say are African mercenaries fighting for Gaddafi. Libyan officials denied air force warplanes had bombed civilians.

Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi’s son, has said an air attack earlier this week on Brega, another rebel-held town, was designed to scare off militia fighters and gain control of oil installations.

The Pentagon has said there was evidence that Gaddafi forces were dropping ordnance but it was not clear if warplanes were bombing rebel forces.

Brega, a key oil exporting terminal, was bombed on Wednesday and yesterday. Ajdabiyah was also bombed yesterday.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has warned against “loose talk” about a no-fly zone.

“Let’s just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defences,” Gates said.

He and other officials have listed logistical and diplomatic hurdles to such action.

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