By George Grant.
Tripoli, 18 October:
At least ten people have been killed and scores more wounded following an attack on Bani Walid from three separate fronts launched yesterday.
Conflicting reports have emerged this morning as to whether the attacking forces succeeded in entering the town at any point, but Bani Walid residents say that the town has not yet fallen.
“They are trying to enter the town; they have not succeeded yet but they are coming”, said Taha Mohammed, a doctor at Bani Walid general hospital.
The deputy director of the hospital, Abdullah Al-Mansuri, told AFP that seven had died and 75 had been wounded in the fighting.
It is also reported that four members of the Libya Shield brigade have been killed, and 19 wounded. It is not known from which of the three fronts the Shield casualties came.
Yesterday, the army’s spokesman, Colonel Ali Al-Sheikhi, denied claims that the assault had been officially authorised, saying “we gave no order to attack”. His office had previously told this paper that earlier attacks against Bani Walid had also not been authorised. Later, however, Chief of Staff Yusuf Mangoush issued an ambiguous statement to the LANA news agency asserting that the army was “ready to enter Bani Walid”.
The exact reason for the two apparently conflicting statements is not yet clear, but it remains a possibility that Mangoush was attempting to bring his public declarations into line with the fast-changing reality on the ground.
“The army is out of General Mangoush’s control; that’s true 100 per cent”, said one senior congressman closely involved in the situation.
Another Congress source, Ahmed Langhi, confirmed that the attack was not authorised by National Congress President Mohamed Magarief or the government, who are attempting to resolve the crisis through peaceful negotiations.
“Mr Magarief is upset about this situation and he is doing his best to solve this problem before Eid”, the congressman said. “These attacks are completely against what the government and GNC wants. But these revolutionaries; they are young people; they are difficult to control.”
On Saturday, a government and Congress-mandated delegation of elders succeeded in brokering a resolution with Bani Walid leaders following a visit to the town.
It was agreed that soldiers from eastern Libya would be permitted to enter Bani Walid, purportedly to resolve the standoff and to start the process of finding those responsible for the death of Omran Shaban. That agreement has not been put into effect, however, having been rebuffed by commanders directly involved in the siege.
Langhi told the Libya Herald today that in spite of the latest clashes, this negotiated settlement remains on the table.
“We will choose people from the Libyan army to enter the town with the agreement of Bani Walid”, he said. ”We will find a peaceful resolution to this situation”.
He concluded by saying that “a very important person” would visit Bani Walid in the coming days, but refused to reveal the identity of the individual.