Eastern Libya town calm, but standoff continues

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    STORY HIGHLIGHTS

    • NEW: Venezuelan leader says Gadhafi is receptive to the idea of an international commission
    • Obama says the United States is examining “a full range of options”
    • Opposition forces fend off attacks by pro-Gadhafi forces
    • Doctor: Attackers are shooting at doctors and ambulances in Misrata

    Ajdabiya, Libya (CNN) — The eastern Libyan town of al-Brega was calm early Friday, witnesses said, a day after forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi launched airstrikes on the oil port in an effort to reclaim it from the opposition.

    The attacks in the eastern towns of Ajdabiya and al-Brega on Thursday were the second such offensive carried out by the government in as many days. In some cases, opposition forces used arms stolen from military installations and police stations to fend off the attacks.

    Meanwhile, a doctor on the northwestern part of the Libyan coast said residents were scrambling to stay safe amid attacks by forces loyal to the long-term ruler.

    Attackers were shooting at doctors and ambulances in Misrata, the doctor said.

    “We are are holding our city, we are trying to protect our city,” the doctor told CNN’s “AC360” early Friday.

    “We are doing our job in the hospital and trying to treat everybody. This morning, they shot at our ambulances. One of them exploded … they shot at our doctors.”

    At least 40 people were killed in the city and 300 suffered gunshot wounds to the head and chest, the doctor said.

    While CNN has staff in some cities, the network cannot independently confirm reports for many areas in Libya. CNN has gathered information through telephone interviews with witnesses.

    Musa Ibrahim, a spokesman for Gadhafi’s regime, has denied reports of attacks on peaceful protesters and military installations.

    As the attacks have escalated in the past few days, U.S. military aircraft and French charter jets scrambled to evacuate tens of thousands from the north African nation.

    In Washington, President Barack Obama said he has approved the use of U.S. military aircraft to help Egyptians who have fled the unrest to return home.

    Obama said he also authorized the U.S. Agency for International Development to charter additional planes “to help people from other countries find their way home.”

    Most of the evacuees ended up in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia.

    “Tens of thousands of people from many different countries are fleeing Libya, and we commend the governments of Tunisia and Egypt for their response, even as they go through their own political transitions,” Obama said.

    Gadhafi’s use of aerial attacks have prompted the West to step up discussions about imposing a no-fly zone over the country.

    U.S. military and diplomatic officials have said enacting a no-fly zone would be complicated and risky, and international support is not strong.

    “If it’s ordered, we can do it,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, but imposing a no-fly zone “begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses.”

    The United States is exploring a “full range” of options, Obama said Thursday.

    Analysts said the Iraq war has prompted nations to be more cautious.

    “We went into Iraq with a very dubious understanding of the situation on the ground,” Christopher Hill, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told “AC 360.” “So I think there is some concern about whether refugee reports are entirely accurate in a sort of macro sense.”

    “I think what the president is trying to do, is to try to build diplomatic support and see where we can go with this. And I think it would be highly problematic if he just jumped into something.”

    The Arab League on 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 sought to create an impression that it still controls the vast majority of the country, with rebels in charge only of pockets.

    The government on Thursday organized a trip for a CNN crew to visit a refinery in Zawiya. The refinery, Libya’s second-largest, is operating at 80% of capacity, officials said.

    Venezuela’s president has said Gadhafi is receptive to the idea of an international commission coming to the country when the two heads of state spoke this week.

    “I consulted with him. I asked him if he was willing to accept a commission of countries,” Hugo Chavez said on state-run VTV Thursday night.

    The protests have left more than 1,000 people dead and many more injured, 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.

    CNN’s Ben Wedeman, Catherine E. Shoichet, Salma Abdelaziz contributed to this report


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    Eastern Libya town calm, but standoff continues