By Tim Lister, CNN
Get up to speed on the fast-changing events in Libya as of Friday morning, ET:
Warplanes roared through the skies over the Libya capital, Tripoli, early Friday, dropping bombs on the outskirts of the city where military bases are located. Anti-aircraft fire quickly punctuated the darkness, and then fell silent again.
CNN's Nic Robertson tweets: Driving through E. outskirts of Tripoli, drive past mil base, apparent bomb damage, still smoking.
In Ajdabiya, about 430 miles southeast of the capital, the British Ministry of Defense on Friday reported airstrikes on "Libyan armoured vehicles which were threatening the civilian population." The French and British strikes on an artillery battery and armored vehicles were intended to give a measure of relief to Ajdabiya, whose residents have endured more than a week of shelling and fighting between rebels and government troops.
The Washington Post adds: In Benghazi, the de facto rebel capital in eastern Libya, a spokesman for the anti-Gaddafi forces said that loyalist troops in the strategic city of Ajdabiya were trying to surrender. "We are trying to negotiate with these people in Ajdabiya because we are almost sure that they have lost contact with their headquarters," said Col. Ahmad Omar Bani, a former Libyan air force pilot. "We received information from freedom fighters in Ajdabiya saying some [Gaddafi] fighters have offered to leave their tanks," he said, adding that a local imam was helping in the negotiations.
Time says there seems little chance of the rebels overunning Gadhafi's forces in Ajdabiya:
There are no radioed instructions from headquarters in Benghazi and no senior officer on the spot to devise a battle plan. The next attack will take place when the driver of one of the vehicles gets a rush of blood to his head and roars off in the direction of Ajdabiyah. Perhaps others may feel inspired to follow.
Salem, however, won't be among them. He's discovered the futility of such charges. While their guardian angels at 30,000 ft. (9,100 m) have the best missiles and bombs money can buy, the rebels are woefully outgunned on the ground. Pointing to his gun, Salem says, "There is no comparison between this and [the enemy's] Grad missiles."
Scope of mission, days, weeks but not months ...
International military support for the rebels is not open-ended: French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe on Thursday set a time frame on the international action at days or weeks — not months. Others disagreed. Russia’s former ambassador to Libya said Gaddafi could hold off coalition forces for months, and still enjoys broad public support and will not step down. Vladimir Chamov, who was relieved of his duties last weekend by President Dmitry Medvedev, said on arrival in Moscow late Wednesday that the hostilities could turn Libya into a hotbed of instability resembling Iraq or Somalia.
U.S. role: Still contributing to airstrikes
In a Pentagon news briefing Thursday, Vice Adm. William E. Gortney said, "We are going to give up the command position . . . and be participants" in the Libyan operation. he said the United States would "continue to provide predominantly those capabilities we have that are unique," such as refueling tankers, "ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] platforms" and "some of the interdiction strike packages."
NATO: Two out of three isn't bad ...
NATO agreed Thursday to take command of enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya and was considering taking control of the full U.N.-backed military mission, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told CNN.
Rasmussen's announcement fell short of what U.S. President Barack Obama has sought, and it was unclear if concerns by Turkey and some other NATO allies over coalition airstrikes on Libyan ground forces would prevent NATO from agreeing to expand its command over the entire mission. "What we have decided today is that NATO will enforce the no-fly zone," Rasmussen said in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "We are considering whether NATO should take on overall responsibility. That decision has not been made yet."
Rasmussen said he expected NATO to take over full control of the no-fly-zone enforcement in a few days, and to decide on the issue of broader responsibility "within the coming days." However, a senior administration official said that in fact, NATO reached an understanding that it will control the rest of the mission, with details on the extent of the mission still being worked out.
Some skepticism from analysts
"The pressure is going to be on France and Britain principally, as well as Italy to take up, take responsibility, and fly those air missions and patrol the seas as our navy has been doing, so we intimidate Gadhafi and give energy to the rebel forces. They won't do that if there's a tepid or inconsistent international military effort.... If there's a big dropoff between a U.S-led operation and a European-led NATO operation, that could embolden Gadhafi." – former deputy U.S. secretary of state, Nicholas Burns, on AC360.
"Here we have the military conducting a very limited mission, which in many ways doesn't relate to the overall policy, which is to remove Gadhafi from power. So yes, there is still some confusion there. I think if you add that additional complication of what happens when the rebels are on the move, I don't think that's clearly defined yet. I think it's going to add more confusion to the situation, not only for the troops in the air, but also for the public that has to support this mission." – Gen. Mark Kimmitt, on AC360.
New York Times adds: The questions swirling around the operation’s command mirrored the larger strategic divisions over how exactly the coalition will bring it to an end — or even what the end might look like, and whether it might even conceivably include a Libya with Colonel Qaddafi remaining in some capacity. While few countries have openly sided with the Libyan leader, officials said on Thursday that most of the allies expected that the use of military force would lead to talks between the government and the rebels.
**Germans still critical of the whole operation: Germany's Minister for Development Aid Dirk Niebel said: "I find it strange that countries that are still getting oil from Libya are happily bombing the place. I think before military intervention, you should exhaust all non-military methods of pressure." Niebel also said he believes the campaign will be long and drawn out and could requite allied ground forces in the future.
Libya's Muslim Brotherhood: Eyes on the prize
Dr. Abdulmonem Hresha knows first-hand how Moammar Gadhafi's regime works. He says the seeds of his opposition were sown when he was age 10. He and classmates were taken to witness the public execution of a political opponent of Gadhafi.
"They hung him up in front of thousands of small kids," Hresha said. "He did that to scare people."
The prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood now lives in London, and anticipates the group could become an important player in a post-Gadhafi environment. As in Egypt and Tunisia, the Brotherhood in Libya has been energized by the sudden upheaval sweeping the Arab world. (Read the full story)
Are Gadhafi's entourage looking for a way out?
Messages seeking some kind of peaceful end to U.N.-backed military action or a safe exit for members of Gaddafi's entourage have been sent via intermediaries in Austria, Britain and France, said Roger Tamraz, a Middle Eastern businessman with long experience conducting deals with the Libyan regime.
Tamraz said Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Muammar's eldest son, and Abdullah Senoussi, the Libyan leader's brother-in-law, were the most prominent Gaddafi entourage members involved in seeking ways to end the fighting.
Tamraz told Reuters that some of the most aggressive efforts by members of Gaddafi's entourage to start dialogue were being channeled through Austria. A European government financial investigator said that Libya was believed to have extensive wealth and investments in Austria.
Syria: Protests broken up in Damascus; small crowds in Daraa
Reuters reports Syrian security forces have broken up a protest in Damascus and made arrests.
Meanwhile, small crowds gathered in the city of Deraa on Friday after calls to attend the funerals of people killed in unprecedented anti-government protests. Activists said there was debate among people assembled at Deraa's main Omari mosque whether a rally should be organised following the killing of at least 44 people in a police crackdown on the unrest that erupted a week ago.
Veteran Middle East reporter Jim Muir writes on the BBC website:
President Bashar al-Assad and his Baathist government have come up with a wide range of conciliatory decisions and promises that look good on paper. The question is how solid they turn out to be, and whether they are in time to head off the kind of uprising that has already unseated two of the region's long-standing regimes – in Egypt and Tunisia – and that is knocking loudly on the doors of many others.
The first test of the credibility and effectiveness of the new measures will come after noon prayers on Friday, when activists have called for a day of "dignity" to carry the Deraa protests on to the national stage.
The International Crisis Group analyzes the rapidly evolving situation in Syria:
The regime faces three inter-related challenges. First is a diffuse but deep sense of fatigue within society at large, combined with a new unwillingness to tolerate what Syrians had long grown accustomed to - namely the arrogance of power in its many forms, including brutal suppression of any dissent, the official media’s crude propaganda and vague promises of future reform. As a result of events elsewhere in the region, a new awareness and audacity have materialised over the past several weeks in myriad forms of rebelliousness, large and small, throughout the country.
Gates tough words for Syrian leadership
Syria should follow Egypt's lead and the Syrian army should "empower a revolution," said Robert Gates, U.S. secretary of defense. The Financial Times reports: Drawing a parallel between the unrest in Syria and the protests that unseated Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s former president, Gates said: "I’ve just come from Egypt, where the Egyptian army stood on the sidelines and allowed people to demonstrate and in fact empowered a revolution. The Syrians might take a lesson from that."
Egypt: protest leaders harrassed by military, as Muslim Brotherhood gets organized
The Financial Times reports: Egypt is due to hold parliamentary elections in September, but the young political activists who launched the revolution have been pressing for a longer transition to allow them to organise. Politicians and analysts say only the Muslim Brotherhood and remnants of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party are sufficiently prepared for elections.
CNN's Ivan Watson reports on the lost revolution in Egypt: "Where is the revolution going, the revolution that began in Tahrir Square?" asked a short brunette holding a microphone. "What happened to the revolution we created?"
Human rights lawyer Ragia Omran repeated the question before a crowd of activists, concerned citizens and politicians from parties ranging from the Muslim Brotherhood to the secular Al Waft party.
But the Brotherhood is at least an organized political force, one that according to the New York Times is charting its own course:
In post-revolutionary Egypt, where hope and confusion collide in the daily struggle to build a new nation, religion has emerged as a powerful political force, following an uprising that was based on secular ideals. The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group once banned by the state, is at the forefront, transformed into a tacit partner with the military government that many fear will thwart fundamental changes.
Yemen: Day of departure
Yemen President Saleh is striking a defiant pose:
Notes from a speech he has made today in Sanaa, addressing a crowd on what the regime calls The Day of Tolerance:
"We are ready to leave from the authority, but on systematic basis not with the gangs and drug dealers or Al-Houthis. (The Houthis, who are Shia, have been involved in a long uprising against the central government.) "We will hand over the authority to you great people."We are against chaos and a coup and against shooting one single bullet on our people."
As demonstrators for and against President Ali Abdullah Saleh mustered for a new round of competing rallies on Friday, the Yemeni leader was engaged in serious negotiations over the timing and conditions for the end of his 32-year rule, Yemeni and American officials said.
The four-week-old protest movement appeared to be gaining momentum with the defections in the past week of a host of high-level government officials, including senior military commanders and ambassadors, and the protesters’ rejection of Mr. Saleh’s latest offer, to leave office by the end of the year.
Turkey admits shipment of weapons to Yemen
Turkey has admitted that a shipment of thousands of handguns destined for Yemen originated in Turkey. The Foreign Ministry says: "The gun shipment attempt in question, is based on a permission given by our authorities. The required research is continuing by our related institutions."
"It is out of question that our authorities to give permission for a such weapons export that could cause more deaths in Yemen."
Protests return to Jordan
From CNN producer in Amman and AFP: Jordanian students vowed today to press on with their sit-in protest in central Amman to demand reforms, undeterred by a stone attack they blamed on government supporters. "They are trying to push us to leave," Saddam Basrawi, a 21-year-old university student, told AFP. "Last night, they attacked us with stones, but we will endure and we will not budge no matter what happens."
Around 500 youths from different movements, including the powerful Islamist opposition, had camped out in the rain and cold weather to call for reforms to the current regime and more efforts to fight corruption.
Casualty of the Arab Spring: U.S.-Saudi relations
The Saudi monarchy, which itself has been loathe to introduce democratic reforms, watched with deepening alarm as the White House backed Arab opposition movements and helped nudge from power former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, another long-time U.S. ally, according to U.S. and Arab officials.
That alarm turned to horror when the Obama administration demanded that the Saudi-backed monarchy of Bahrain negotiate with protesters representing the country's majority Shiite Muslim population. To Saudi Arabia's Sunni rulers, Bahrain's Shiites are a proxy for Shiite Iran, its historic adversary.
Saudi Arabia has registered its displeasure bluntly. Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were rebuffed when they sought to visit the kingdom this month. The official cover story was that aging King Abdullah was too ill to receive them.
Bahrain: Opposition divided over protests
Reuters reports that Wefaq, the mainstream Shia opposition group, has distanced itself from the demonstrations.
"Wefaq affirms the need to protect safety and lives and not to give the killers the opportunity to shed blood," it said on Thursday. Nine demonstrations appear to be planned, across different parts of Bahrain, including one headed toward the airport and one that aims to "liberate" Salmaniya hospital. Security forces raided Salmaniya hospital in the crackdown, removing several tents set up by protesters in previous weeks.
The Financial Times reports heavy security:
Amid a heightened military presence, including armoured vehicles and low-flying fighter jets, the security forces tightened their grip on entrances to Shia villages, the expected flashpoints for any unrest.
Shotgun-wielding, masked policemen set up several checkpoints along the Budaya Highway, a main thoroughfare through Shia villages including Diraz, where the most senior Shia cleric gives a weekly sermon at noon Friday prayers. Two fighter jets screamed above the capital and along the highway as the government sought to ward off any unrest and return the banking and tourism hub to normality.