News from Libya remains impossible to verify and confused – more confused now that apparently all landlines have been cut as well as all wireless and internet connections.
There are reports of fighter jets firing on protesters in Tripoli as well as continued reports of live fire in the capital city. The use of fighter jets may be more reliable than initially thought as Al Jazeera English has just reported from Malta that the two Libyan jets which landed there earlier today without permission carried pilots who have now been identified as two senior colonels of the Libyan Air Force:
7:45pm: The defected pilots reportedly tell Maltese officials they were based in Tripoli and ordered to attack protesters on the ground in Benghazi. After seeing their fellow pilots begin the airstrikes, they diverted course toward Malta. If substantiated, this would appear to confirm the use of airstrikes against civilian protesters in cities around the country.
The Times of Malta reports the same:
Two Libyan Air Force Mirage jet fighters unexpectedly flew to Malta this afternoon with their pilots claiming they escaped to Malta after having been ordered to bomb protesters who have taken control of the second city of Benghazi.
The pilots told the Maltese authorities that they left from a base near Tripoli. They are being questioned by the police.
The pilots initially asked for emergency clearance to land and for refuelling.
AJE also reports from Al Jazeera Arabic:
7:56pm: Al Jazeera Arabic is speaking to a political activist in Tripoli, who tells us there are airstrikes “all over Tripoli”.
There is death, fear – and women are crying everywhere. The strikes are concentrated against areas that sent large number of protestors to the streets and there are cars full of foreign fighters firing on people.
He says at least 250 people were killed in the past 24 hours alone and is calling for international help. He tells us Tripoli is “under siege by foreign fighters” – that water and electricity have been cut and there is a shortage of food and medical supplies. “It is a genocide,” he says.
The BBC notes:
1839: This just in from BBC Monitoring, citing the online edition of opposition newspaper Libya al-Yawm: “Mercenaries were reportedly shooting at crowds in Tripoli during an intense air assault. Intense aerial bombing in Tripoli… Panic and fear are overcoming the situation.”
1746: Arab-American Nasr Anaizi tweets: “Civilians marching from #Mesrata toward #Tripoli are being fired upon from Apache helicopters. Real massacres are taking place in #Libya.”
The Guardian includes a report of naval bombardment as well: (h/t Dday)
5.07pm – Libya: Salem Gnan, a London-based spokesman for the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, says eyewitnesses in Tripoli have told him the navy has opened fire on parts of the capital.
We have just heard that the military ships are bombing an area in Tripoli and many people have been killed although we don’t know how many at the moment because people have just called to tell us it is happening.
Gnan said the navy appeared to be bombing a residential area outside the city centre as part of a desperate crackdown by Gaddafi’s troops.
He is even turning the ships on his people now. His plan is to use absolutely everything he can to stop what is happening.
[cont’d. with updates below]17 Feb Libya translates reports coming into Al Jazeera Arabic and other sources:
All updates in Tripoli Local Time
19:17 Enough Gaddafi tweets: “Mercenaries are being released in neighborhoods, Suq Jumaa, and shooting at any group of people gathered
19:17 Al Jazeera Live interview: Protesters coming from Mesrate being fired at from aircraft while on their way to Tripoli
18:57 AJArabic reporting protesters in Tripoli are being strafed and targeted by ground artillery shelling too
18:31 Al Jazeera Arabic confirms protesters being gunned down from planes in Tripoli.
Earlier people reported planes or helicopters circling above Tripoli.
18:18 – A witness has just confirmed that a fleet of 30 cars are roaming around different parts of Tripoli full of 4 mercenaries each holding AK47s.
A correspondent from Tripoli has just confirmed to us that low heavy artillery has started in Tripoli right now. We have also been told that Fashloom and Noofliyeen are witnessing heavy fighting right now!
A researcher on Libya for Human Rights Watch, speaking to Al Jazeera English, noted this is particularly worrying and the conditions under which massacres occur. The latest HRW death toll which she described as very conservative and does not include casualties from Tripoli overnight is 233. They have eyewitness reports of dead bodies in the streets, initial reports of at least 60 dead overnight but have not been able to contact the hospitals to confirm – and are not certain the hospitals are able to get to the bodies where they lay.
Still the Obama administration is silent with even PJ Crowley’s twitter feed ignoring these reports. The only word is an anonymous statement to the Italian paper AGI:
Barack Obama is evaluating “appropriate action” vis-a-vis Libya. The announcement was made by a US Administration source that asked the regime of Muammar al-Gaddafi to not resort to the use of force against anti-Government protesters. “We will ask the Libyan Government for clarifications. We will continue to raise the need to avoid resorting to violence against peaceful protesters and call for the respect of universal human rights”, the source explained.