Libyan rebels said Monday they were
ready to begin exporting oil, with assistance from Qatar, despite
continued attacks by Moammar Gadhafi's forces on rebel-held oil
refineries and cities.
Sources told the German Press Agency dpa that the Zueitina oil pipeline terminal in Ajdabiya, which is now held by the rebels, is ready for operations and that bank accounts have been created to begin exporting oil.
However, just south of Ajdabiya, Gadhafi's forces shelled the al-Masalla oil field, according to the opposition website Libya al-Youm.
The oil field belongs to the Arab Gulf Oil Company, whose officials had previously announced they would operate independently of the Tripoli-based, state-owned National Oil Company until Gadhafi is removed.
Gadhafi threatened last week to sue any foreign company that signs contracts with the opposition's Interim Transitional National Council (ITNC), saying such oil installations could not be left in the hands of "armed gangs."
However, Italy on Monday joined a growing number of countries in recognizing the ITNC as the country's sole representative, according to Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.
Italy is the biggest foreign buyer of Libyan oil and natural gas.
According to broadcaster Al Arabiya, Kuwait is set to become the second Arab country after Qatar to recognize the ITNC as the sole Libyan representative.
For its part, Britain will supply the ITNC with telecommunications equipment, Foreign Secretary William Hague said.
He did not specify what kind of communication equipment would be sent to Libya, or how much.
Hague also told parliament that a follow-up meeting of the Libya Contact Group, set up at an international conference in London a week ago, would take place in Doha, the capital of Qatar, next week.
Meanwhile, Gadhafi's forces attacked the northwestern city of Misurata, the country's third-largest, after a relative lull in violence there, according to rebels.
Misurata, which lies just east of Tripoli, is a major gateway to the country's capital. Rebel forces had briefly claimed victory in the city, but Gadhafi's forces quickly pushed the opposition back.
Doctors have long complained of a shortage of medical and food supplies in Misurata, with an unknown number of civilians killed and injured in clashes over the last several weeks. Doctors without Borders said they transported 71 patients from Misurata to Tunisia, many of whom had suffered serious injuries from gunfire and shelling.
Opposition fighters in Libya have been trying to recapture key coastal cities, particularly in the east, but continue to face difficulties due to their lack of training and equipment.
The opposition website Libya al-Youm reported that heavy shelling and rocket attacks on Zintan and Yefren were also taking place Monday.
Dozens of families had also left the eastern oil port town of Brega to escape fighting between rebels and government forces for control of the city.
Witnesses said fierce fighting took place overnight and gunfire could still be heard in the morning. They also said the city was short of food.
Forces loyal to Gadhafi controlled the western part of the city, while their opponents held the eastern part, one of the rebels said.
Libyan forces were also trying to maintain control of western cities, even as a Libyan diplomat met with officials in Greece to discuss an possible negotiated end to the conflict.
Libya wants a solution to end the fighting, the country's deputy foreign minister, Abdelati Obeidi, told Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou on Sunday.
The New York Times quoted an unnamed diplomat as saying Gadhafi's son, Saif al-Islam, had proposed a solution that would see Gaddafi step down and his son lead a transition to democracy. However, the opposition's Interim Transitional National Council has said no member of the Gadhafi family would be accepted in a new government.
A protest took place in the eastern city of Bayda on Monday against Saif al-Islam's proposal. Protesters were also gathering outside the central courthouse in Benghazi late Monday to voice their opposition to any of Gadhafi's sons taking part in a future government.
The European Union echoed the opposition's sentiment, saying Monday that it would not welcome the involvement of any of Gadhafi's seven sons in a new or transitional government.
"The position of the EU is very clear - the Gadhafi regime has lost all legitimacy and has to go," said a spokesman for the EU's top diplomat, Catherine Ashton. "The Gadhafi regime, that is people in the regime, and as far as I know, his sons are in the regime."
NATO planes have been implementing United Nations-authorized military action against Libya, targeting Libyan military objectives to prevent attacks on civilians.
The NATO-led operations could last for at least six months, Britain's Air Force chief, Marshal Stephen Dalton, told the Guardian newspaper.
"In general terms (we) are now planning on the basis of at least six months, and we'll see where we go from there," he said.
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