Libyan rebels advanced on two fronts on Friday against Moamer Kadhafi’s troops, who NATO reported still held two cities west of Tripoli, and the UN called for a peaceful transition to end the war.
In Washington, the US House of Representatives voted to forbid the Pentagon from arming, training, or advising the strife-torn North African nation’s rebels.
While that provision, as part of the Defence Bill, has to go to Senate where it may face stiff opposition, Republican Senator John McCain denounced the vote as “deeply disturbing”.
McCain, a strong supporter of the rebels battling to oust Colonel Kadhafi, warned that it “sends exactly the wrong message to Kadhafi and those fighting for freedom and democracy in Libya — especially since Kadhafi is clearly crumbling.”
The strength of Kadhafi’s position, however, appeared still unclear, with fighting continuing and huge pro- and anti-Kadhafi rallies in Libya’s towns and cities.
Wing Commander Mike Bracken, the NATO mission’s military spokesman, said “anti-Kadhafi forces look to have the initiative and are able to launch successful attacks against pro-Kadhafi forces.”
But Kadhafi forces still hold two cities west of the capital Tripoli, Zawiyah and Zuwarah, and are “rearming, regrouping and fighting in places such as Kikla, Misrata and Dafnia,” he added via video link from NATO operational headquarters in Naples.
Tripoli pressed its media offensive with several religious leaders calling for Friday prayers in the capital’s Green Square to “beg God to protect Libya against invading crusaders and traitors,” a reference to NATO and the rebels.
A pro-Kadhafi demonstration broadcast on state television last week prompted a propaganda riposte by thousands of rebel supporters in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi on Wednesday.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon meanwhile called on Libya’s regime to allow a peaceful transition as the rebels fighting went into day three of a NATO-backed offensive to the south and east of Tripoli.
AFP correspondents also reported rebel offensives in the Nefusa mountains to the west of the capital and also around the coastal town of Zliten.
In the United State, the country’s involvement in the Libyan conflict remains unpopular with the US public and the anger of many US lawmakers surfaced on Thursday over President Barack Obama’s handling of the conflict.
Republican Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma introduced the measure to bar US aid to the Libyan rebels, saying in a statement after the vote: “Congress has allowed the president to overreach in Libya.”
The statement denounced the US role in the NATO-led, UN-mandated operations in Libya as an “ill-advised adventure.”
In Europe, carrying out the lion’s share of foreign involvement in the fighting, Poland said it had opened diplomatic ties with the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC), installing its ambassador in the eastern stronghold of Benghazi.
Warsaw currently holds the rotating European Union presidency.
France said last week that it had supplied light arms including rifles and rocket launchers to the rebels for “self-defence” in line with a UN resolution and that it had informed NATO and the Security Council of its plan to do so.
Russia criticized the move while France’s NATO ally Britain had expressed reservations. Paris said this week that the rebels no longer need weapons drops since they are getting more organized and can arrange to arm themselves.
UN chief Ban on Thursday urged Libyan Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmudi to stop the fighting, which began in February, and help improve humanitarian conditions.
In a telephone call, Ban stressed “the urgent need to find a way out of the current fighting and alleviate the dire humanitarian situation and work out a transition that could bring peace to all Libyans,” his office said.
He also said his special envoy to Libya Abdul Ilah al-Khatib was aiming to reach a peace deal for all Libyans.
Mahmudi had agreed that Khatib should be received in Tripoli “at an early date for urgent consultations,” Ban’s office added.