By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 12:33 PM on 9th March 2011
- Libyan Airlines Falcon 900 entered Greek airspace for 15 minutes
- The west wants to ‘divide country and take oil’, dictator claims
- Thirteen-and-a-half hour barrage of bombs on Zawiyah
- Snipers given orders to ‘shoot anything that moves’
- ‘We want the international community to support a no-fly zone’, says Clinton
Three private jets owned by Colonel Gaddafi today left Libya headed for Vienna, Athens and Egypt, according to reports.
Greek officials said they spotted one Libyan Airlines Falcon 900 jet as it briefly entered airspace for around 15 minutes earlier this morning.
The sightings have already prompted speculation that Gaddafi or members of his family have fled the country.
The planes usually carry Libyan officials and VIPs but it is not known who was on board the aircraft.
Karl Stango-Navarra, a journalist based in Valletta, Malta, told Al Jazeera that the three jets are flying in three different directions.
‘One is suggested to be Vienna, the other is supposed to be Athens in Greece, and the other is Cairo, Egypt,’ Stango-Navarra said.
‘Obviously, nobody knows who may be aboard the planes,’ he said.
The development comes as revolutionary forces who have established the Libyan National Council gave Gaddafi 72 hours to quit and leave the North African country amidst escalating violence.
‘A private plane of Gaddafi has crossed Greek airspace en route to Egypt,’ the Greek defence ministry source said.
‘We do not know who is on board.The pilot tabled a flight plan from Tripoli to Cairo,
‘The plane crossed southwest of the island of Crete around an hour ago. It should be landing in Cairo by now.’
The flight comes as forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi ‘flattened’ the city of Zawiyah with an onslaught of rockets, tanks and war planes as the dictator increases violence in the troubled country.
Gaddafi’s aircraft and tanks pounded rebels in Zawiyah, the closest rebel-held city to the Libyan stronghold of Tripoli in the west, during a 13-and-a-half hour barrage.
Dead bodies were said to be littering the streets as troops swept through the area opening fire relentlessly in a ferocious bid to reclaim the oil-rich city.
The violent frenzy came as Gaddafi gave his fourth rambling TV interview from a hotel in Tripoli since protests began on February 15.
Gaddafi and his entourage made a bizarre visit to a Tripoli hotel where foreign journalists were staying late on Tuesday and gave interviews to French and Turkish television.
Returning to familiar themes, the Libyan leader said the rebels wanted to pave the way for a new colonial era that would allow Britain, France and the United States to divide up the country and control its oil wealth.
Making reference obliquely to unrest in the Arab world and elsewhere, he said: ‘How can (Libyan) parents allow Tunisians, Egyptians, Algerians and Afghans to enrol your children?’
He said rebels were drug-addled youths and al Qaeda-backed terrorists, and said he would die in Libya rather than surrender. One of his sons said if Gaddafi bowed to pressure and quit, Libya would descend into civil war.
Meanwhile today, in besieged Zawiyah, 30 miles west of Tripoli, trapped residents sheltered from the onslaught of four dozen tanks backed up by aircraft firepower.
Bodies were lying unrecovered in the ruins of many buildings destroyed in air raids earlier in the week. There was no one in the streets of the centre of the city of 290,000 and it was not possible to verify the reports independently.
‘Zawiyah as you knew it no longer exists. They have been attacking the town from 10 in the morning until 11:30 in the evening,’ Zawiyah resident, Ibrahim, said early today.
He said that dozens of bodies were scatterer on the streets. ‘There is no electricity, no water and we are cut off from the outside world,’ he added.
The fighter said forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi were in control of the main road and the suburbs of Zawiyah, which in the past three days has become a focal point of a civil war on two fronts to end Gaddafi’s rule.
There were army snipers on top of most buildings, shooting whomever dared to leave their homes. Half of the city was hit by air attacks, including a mosque, he said.
‘The situation is not so good,’ said another resident by telephone.
‘No one can move outside their homes because they there are snipers everywhere,’ he added.
Ibrahim said Gaddafi forces ‘have surrounded the square with snipers and tanks’ but rebels were holding on to the central square area.
‘It’s very scary. There are a lot of snipers,’ he said.
‘There are many dead people and they can’t even bury them. Zawiyah is deserted. There’s nobody on the streets. No animals, not even birds in the sky,’ he said.
The heavy fighting has forced a shutdown of one of Libya’s biggest refineries, which is located near the town, a refinery official said today.
Zawiyah was, briefly, described as a rebel stronghold in the uprising which erupted against Gaddafi last month. But it may now be on the verge of changing hands.
But rebel forces still controlled Zawiyah’s central square, and the enemy was about 1,500 metres away, Ibrahim added.
In a propaganda bid to play down the rebellion, Libyan television showed two reporters meeting residents yesterday in what it said was ‘liberated Zawiyah’. But a Ghanaian worker who fled the city said rebels still controlled the central square, urging residents to defend their positions.
A government spokesman said troops were mostly in control but there was still a small group of fighters. ‘Maybe 30-40 people, hiding in the streets and in the cemetery. They are desperate,’ he said in Tripoli.
Blitzes on Zawiyah came a day after Libyan warplanes bombarded a rebel stronghold with seven air-strikes as Gaddafi tried to prevent them closing in on his Tripoli safe haven.
Anti-Gaddafi insurgents took up any position they could as they returned fire with little more than hand guns and assault rifles, taking pot shots at the roaring jets overhead.
Some lay on the floor while others sat in office swivel chairs in a bid to get a better line of sight as they furiously defended the oil port of Ras Lanouf.
But their brave attempts to stave off the attacks were no match for Gaddafi’s brute force as one strike landed on a residential area. Fortunately, however, most homes in the area had already been evacuated.
The brutal counter-attacks by Gaddafi loyalists suggest the defiant autocrat in power for 41 years will not go quietly or relatively quickly as fellow leaders in Egypt and Tunisia did in a tide of popular unrest now shaking the Arab world.
The international community has now stepped up the pressure on Gaddafi with Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. President Barack Obama having discussed the ongoing violence.
But today, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it clear that Washington believes any decision to impose a no-fly zone over this African oil-producing desert state is a matter for the United Nations and should not be a U.S.-led initiative.
‘We want to see the international community support it (a no-fly zone),’ Clinton told Sky News today. ‘I think it’s very important that this not be a U.S.-led effort.’
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who talked with Obama about a no-fly zone by telephone, said planning was vital in case Gaddafi refused to step down in response to the popular uprising that erupted mid-February.
‘I think now we have got to prepare for what we might have to do if he goes on brutalising his own people,’ the prime minister told the BBC.
in the telephone call, the two leaders ‘agreed to press forward with planning, including at NATO, on the full spectrum of possible responses, including surveillance, humanitarian assistance, enforcement of the arms embargo, and a no-fly zone’.
Britain and France are seeking a U.N. resolution to authorise such a zone to ground Gaddafi’s aircraft and prevent him moving troops by air.
Russia and China, which have veto power in the U.N. Security Council, are cool towards the idea, which would be likely to require bombing Libyan air defences.
Hafiz Ghoga, spokesman for the rebel National Libyan Council, said in the rebel base of Benghazi in eastern Libya: ’We will complete our victory when we are afforded a no-fly zone. If there was also action to stop him (Gaddafi) from recruiting mercenaries, his end would come within hours.’