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Egypt Arms Libyan Rebels As Gaddafi's Conquest Continues

Benjamin Gottlieb |
March 17, 2011 | 6:10 p.m. PDT

Senior News Editor

Muammar Gaddafi continues his violent campaign against anti-government forces (Courtesy of Creative Commons).
Muammar Gaddafi continues his violent campaign against anti-government forces (Courtesy of Creative Commons).

Arms shipments from Egypt's military have begun flowing across the border into Libya with U.S. knowledge, Libyan rebels and U.S. officials said Thursday.

Made up mostly of small arms, such as assault rifles and ammunition, the shipments are the first confirmed reports of an outside government supporting rebel fighters with weapons. Rebels have been loosing ground for days against pro-Gaddafi forces aiming to end the conflict before foreign intervention plans are finalized.

Although the U.N. approved a "no-fly zone" over Libya late Thursday, rebel forces fear that any planned foreign intervention would be too little to late.

The shipment of arms indicated an unusually bold response by an Arab nation intervening in a conflict outside its borders. There have also been rare public decrees for the West to intervene in the conflict - the Arab League voted 23-0 last week encouraging the U.N. to impose the "no-fly zone" over Libya.

In spite of reports of arms flowing across the Egyptian boarder, Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Menha Bakhoum told Reuters that Egypt would not be involved in any military intervention in neighboring Libya.

"Egypt will not be among those Arab states. We will not be involved in any military intervention. No intervention period," Bakhoum said.

Bakhoum's was responding to comments by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said Thursday that discussions were on the table regarding Arab involvement in U.S. and European intervention in the conflict.

Clinton has said repeatedly that the U.S. desires involvement from a neighboring Arab nation in any planned intervention.

A Libyan rebel government spokesman in Benghazi, Mustafa al-Gherryani, said rebels have begun receiving arms shipments from neighboring nations, however he declined to reveal their origin.

"Our military committee is purchasing arms and arming our people. The weapons are coming, but the nature of the weapons, the amount, where it's coming from, that has been classified," he said.

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As arms flow in to support the already battered rebel forces in Libya, Egyptian officials are bracing for a mass refugee exodus.

The AFP reported that a number of aid agencies on the Egyptian border with Libya are setting up makeshift camps for fleeing rebels and civilians if autocrat Moammar Gaddafi's forces continue their conquest into rebel-held eastern Libyan cities.

From the AFP:

On Thursday, the numbers of Libyans passing the frontier -- middle class families from Benghazi and Tobruk with family or business connections in Egypt -- was more a stream than a flood, but the situation is precarious.

Aid workers at the Sallum border post told AFP that if pro-regime troops attack Benghazi, the port city that has become the base of the month-old revolt against Kadhafi, up to 100,000 people could flee.

Preparations are being made to receive them, but for now the border area is unprepared to cope with such an influx.


Andrea Oess of Swiss Humanitarian Aid said the agencies now on the border, including the Egyptian health ministry, United Nations and the Red Cross among others, are capable of handling the current influx of refugees. The figure is currently at more than 3,100 migrants who are stuck between Egypt and Libya and are without travel documents.

However, plans for a large tent city are in the works as the fighting inches closer to Libya's eastern cities.

"There is no humanitarian crisis, but conditions here are a bit poor," Oess told AFP. "If Benghazi is taken, we are expecting 40,000 to 100,000 people, and we are not ready."

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Follow him on Twitter @benjamin_max.



 

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