There was reported heavy shelling and gunfire Sunday in the Libya’s western rebel-held city of Misrata, despite a government claim that it had halted operations against insurgents there. The city has seen hundreds killed in two months of a government siege.
Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said earlier Sunday the army had suspended operations against rebels in Misrata but had not left the city.
Kaim said the troops stopped fighting to enable tribal elders to negotiate with the rebels. He said if the insurgents don't surrender in 48 hours, the tribesmen will fight them in place of the army.
“At this time, it looks more of a stalemate,” said Walid Phares, who teaches Global Strategies at the National Defense University in Washington, DC. He said when the operation began [under UN resolution 1973] the rationale was to provide a no-fly zone over Libya and stop Gadhafi forces from reaching Benghazi.
“At this point in time,” added Phares who is also the Co-Secretary General of the Transatlantic Legislative Group on Counter Terrorism, “Libya has split into two zones with the rebels to east and Gadhafi to the west.”
Both sides in the conflict, he said, refuse the concept and the notion of not only a divided Libya but also of a stalemate. “They both will try to gather their forces and attack the other side.”
Phares said Tripoli will bank on the international opposition to putting Western troops on the ground.
The rebels on the other hand, he said, “are banking on the fact that they have international support and eventually the government in Tripoli won’t have enough ammunition and logistics and therefore will basically crumble.”
Phares was pessimistic about the role of tribal leaders in settling the dispute. “Both sides mention and claim the support of tribal leaders. Each side is in a region where the tribes are supportive, but the tribes have no real power; they are not organized as military units.”
Phares said not much is known about the current political movement leading the rebels. “There are former dissidents from the army -- those who were from eastern Libya, former bureaucrats, and former diplomats.”
These, he said, are the upper layer of the rebel force but below that, many experts believe, “the most organized group is the Islamist militia inside eastern Libya.”
Phares said that the main challenge for the West now is supporting the rebels without identifying a leadership that would commit to a democratic process at the end.