Operations by Nato states in Libya entered a 100th day on Monday with air strikes having eased the siege of key rebel cities but Col. Gaddafi is still in power and lingering fears of protracted war.
Three months after French jets flew their first missions over eastern Libya, Nato is still pounding targets across the country in what has become a war fought on multiple fronts, but with few clear victories for either side.
As Operation Unified Protector approaches its 5000th strike sortie, Nato is hitting around 50 targets a day, mostly in or around Tripoli and Misrata in the west; Brega in the east; and the Nafusa Mountains southwest of the capital.
Only in Nafusa does the rebel army of ill-equipped irregulars and defectors appear to be making any sustained progress.
While Nato said in its daily update that it carried out strikes on Sunday in Zintan, Yafran and Zawiyah, Elsewhere, an uneasy stalemate has taken hold, with rebel fighters told to hold their positions around Misurata and Ajdabiya, near the oil refinery town of Brega, despite the occasional rocket or mortar attack causing casualties.
Despite Nato’s limited success in neutralising Col Gaddafi’s forces, most Libyans in the east remain strongly in favour of the alliance’s mission.
Musa Mbarak al-Okaili, 46, whose brother Mohammed died 100 days ago after his MiG-23 jet was shot down by Col Gaddafi forces while he defended Benghazi, said Nato had helped prevent a massacre.
“They are helping us out,” he said, sitting by a shrine to his brother at the family home just outside the rebel capital.
“If it was not for Nato and for people like my brother, Col Gaddafi’s army would have entered Benghazi.”
Among the city’s residents there are few doubts about the scale of the bloodshed that would have ensued had he taken the city.
It is a threat that Nato is keen to recall as it faces unease among members about the length of the war, with some countries, including Italy, floating the idea of a ceasefire.
“Three months ago, Benghazi was under threat and Misurata under siege – so look where we are now, by comparison,” said Oana Lungescu, a Nato official.
“Col Gaddafi’s forces are no longer in a position to mass forces, but they are still a threat.”
Near the heavily bombarded city of Misurata, there was renewed evidence of that threat when one person was killed and seven wounded by two shells, an AFP journalist in the city said.
Amid the broader slowdown in fighting, an African Union panel said that Col Gaddafi would not participate in peace talks, in what appeared to be a concession.
Rumours have been rife in recent days that the Libyan leader may consider leaving Tripoli and that rebels could accept his internal exile to a remote location.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said there had been contact between the two camps that specifically involved the fate of Col Gaddafi.
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