Prospects fade for military overthrow of Gaddafi

Libyan rebels said on Friday they had repulsed a government assault on the besieged western city of Misrata but prospects faded that Muammar Gaddafi would be ousted by the armed revolt.

NATO leaders acknowledged the limits of their air power, which has caused rather than broken a military stalemate, and analysts predicted a long-drawn out conflict that could end in the partition of the North African oil producer.

Alliance officials expressed frustration that Gaddafi’s tactics of sheltering his armor in civilian areas had reduced the impact of air supremacy and apologized for a “friendly fire” incident on Thursday that rebels said killed five fighters.

Misrata, a lone major rebel outpost in the west of the country, has been under siege by Gaddafi’s forces for weeks. On Friday insurgents said they had pushed back an assault on the eastern flank of the coastal city after fierce street battles.

“The attack from the east has been repelled now and the (pro-Gaddafi) forces have been pushed back,” rebel spokesman Hassan al-Misrati told Reuters by telephone.

The only active front in the war, along the Mediterranean coast around the eastern towns of Brega and Ajdabiyah, has descended into a desultory stalemate with both sides making advances and then retreating behind secure lines.

On Friday rebels at the western boundary of Ajdabiyah, still jittery after the friendly fire accident, fled from an artillery bombardment but there was no sign of a government advance.