TRIPOLI: After a second night of American and European strikes by air and sea against Muammar Gaddafi's forces, European nations on Monday rejected Libyan claims that civilians had been killed. Pro-Gaddafi forces were reported, meanwhile, to be holding out against the allied campaign to break their hold on the ground while enforcing a no-fly zone.
Rebel fighters trying to retake the eastern town of Ajdabiya appeared to have fallen back to a position around 12 miles to the north on the road to Benghazi, the de facto rebel capital. At least eight rebels were killed as they tried to advance toward Ajdabiya on Monday, cut down by tank and missile fire from loyalist troops dug in on the approaches to the town. Rebel fighters showed reporters the bodies of four of them, loaded onto a pickup truck.
There were conflicting reports about whether the allies had attacked loyalist forces in the town. While planes had been heard overhead, there appeared to have been no attack on the pro-Gaddafi forces holding the entrance to Ajdabiya on the coastal highway leading north to Benghazi.
The retreat from Ajdabiya appeared to have thrown the rebels into deep disarray, with one commander at the checkpoint trying to marshal the opposition forces, using a barely functioning megaphone , but few of the fighters heeding his exhortations.
Separately, Reuters reported that forces loyal to Gaddafi were still at large in Misurata and were using civilians from nearby towns as human shields. But there was no immediate confirmation of that report.
As the assault unfolded late Sunday, an explosion thundered from Gaddafi's personal compound in Tripoli, and a column of smoke rose above it, suggesting that the allied forces may have struck either his residence there or the nearby barracks of his personal guards. Journalists taken by the Gaddafi government to visit the site shortly after the blast said they saw a bomb-damaged building that appeared to be an administrative center rather than a military barracks or a Gaddafi residence, although the exact nature of the facility remained obscure. No casualties were reported.
In London, the defence ministry said on Monday that British Tornado aircraft that had flown 1,500 miles from a base in eastern England aborted their mission at the last minute after "further information came to light that identified a number of civilians within the target area. As a result , the decision was taken not to launch weapons.
In an interview on British radio, foreign secretary William Hague said the allies would judge Gaddafi "by his actions not his words."
"They have to be observing a real ceasefire" before the air and sea attacks would stop, he said. NYT NEWS SERVICE