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Libya's aerial onslaught steps up pressure for no-fly zone

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Libya: Battle for Brega
  • NEW: Obama says the U.S. is examining "a full range of options"
  • NEW: Libyan state TV says the Dutch crew was in a fighter helicopter
  • Bombs dropped on al-Brega and Ajdabiya
  • The International Criminal Court prosecutor puts Libyan leaders "on notice"

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Ajdabiya, Libya (CNN) -- The Libyan military bombed two key towns in the east again Thursday, stepping up efforts to reclaim a region lost to rebels.

The aircraft targeted al-Brega and Ajdabiya, both of which were hit with bombs Wednesday.

Opposition forces told CNN they were forging ahead, working to maintain their positions and fend off attacks by pro-Gadhafi forces. Rebels have armed themselves in some cases by raiding military installations and police stations.

Morale on the part of the opposition seems to be high, while morale among Gadhafi's forces -- which have seen defections as some members of the military have joined the protests -- seems low, CNN's Ben Wedeman reported from eastern Libya.

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Libyan jets Thursday dropped two bombs over al-Brega -- one near a military checkpoint and one near the main gate to a refinery, witnesses reported.

In Ajdabiya,a tribal leader said the military dropped two bombs on military camps. Witnesses told CNN one bomb was near an ammunition depot.

The situation in Libya is different from those in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, where uprisings turned into revolutions that overthrew their rulers. Libya is facing a battle between government forces and rebel forces. "This is becoming a war," Wedeman tweeted.

The more Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi uses aerial attacks, the more pressing discussions become in the West about imposing a no-fly zone over the country.

U.S. military and diplomatic officials -- including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- have all said enacting a no-fly zone is complicated and risky, and international support for the idea is not there yet.

"If it's ordered, we can do it," Gates said, but imposing a no-fly zone "begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses."

Libya's deputy U.N. ambassador, Ibrahim al-Dabashi, appealed to the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone over the country after he broke with Gadhafi's regime and expressed support for the protesters more than a week ago.

U.S. President Barack Obama said Thursday the United States is examining a "full range of options" in the Libyan crisis. There is a danger of a "bloody stalemate" in Libya, he said, adding that he wants to be sure the United States "has the capacity to act quickly in event of humanitarian crisis."

"Col. Gadhafi needs to step down from power and leave," Obama said. "It's the right thing to do." The president also warned that advisers to Gadhafi need to understand that they will be held accountable for any violence they perpetrate against civilians. "They should know history is moving against Col. Gadhafi," Obama said.

The Arab League Wednesday rejected foreign intervention, saying Libya is facing "an internal affair that is decided by the people and their governments."

But the league cannot ignore the suffering of civilians and would consider the imposition of a no-fly zone in coordination with the African Union if fighting were to continue, said Hisham Yousef, chief of staff of the Arab League.

Gadhafi's regime Thursday sought to create an impression that it still controls the vast majority of the country, with rebels in charge of only pockets.

The government organized a trip for a CNN crew to visit a refinery in Zawiya controlled by the government. Rebels control the center of the city, but the refinery is on the outskirts.

The refinery, Libya's second largest, is operating at 80% of its capacity, officials told CNN's Nic Robertson. Managers said that while the refinery had not come under attack, some staff members had been unable to get to work.

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Protesters calling for the ouster of longtime leader Gadhafi have taken to the streets for a third week amid clashes with government forces. He has been in power for nearly 42 years.

Musa Ibrahim, a spokesman for Gadhafi's regime, told CNN, "We need tribal intervention, social intervention to help us convince these people to come to the negotiating table."

The government spokesman denied any attacks on peaceful protesters despite numerous reports from the country of unarmed demonstrators being shot indiscriminately.

More than 1,000 people are reported to have been killed and many more injured during the protests, according to the United Nations. Libya's ambassador to the United States has estimated that the death toll was about 2,000.

The International Criminal Court Thursday said Gadhafi and some of his sons and advisers are under investigation for alleged crimes against humanity.

"I would like to use this opportunity to put them on notice," ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told CNN. "I want to be clear: If their troops commit crimes, they could be made criminally responsible."

It is the first time the court will be investigating claims as they are allegedly occurring.

Libya is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, which created the ICC, and does not recognize the authority of the international court. But the United Nations Security Council referred the matter to the court, essentially giving it "jurisdiction" over the situation in Libya, the court said.

Nations have scrambled to evacuate hundreds of citizens as the unrest continues.

The Netherlands defense ministry said Thursday that three Dutch navy personnel were captured by armed men loyal to Gadhafi during an evacuation operation Sunday. The ministry did not release information earlier because of safety reasons.

Libyan state TV said the personnel were in a fighter helicopter and did not have permission from Libyan authorities to enter. The state TV report showed pictures of those believed to be the crew, as well as the helicopter and images of weapons.

The U.N. refugee agency reported that nearly 150,000 people had crossed Libya's borders into Egypt and Tunisia, and thousands more were arriving hourly at the borders.

Obama said he approved the use of U.S. military aircraft to help return to Egypt those Egyptian citizens who have fled to Tunisia to escape the unrest in Libya. Obama said he has also authorized the U.S. Agency for International Development to charter civilian aircraft to help people from other countries get back home.

CNN's Ben Wedeman, Salma Abdelaziz, Arwa Damon, Nic Robertson, Ivan Watson, Eve Bower, Jim Boulden, Frederik Pleitgen, Richard Roth, Jack Maddox, Whitney Hurst and Antonia Mortensen contributed to this report

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