Tripoli, Libya (CNN) — In the face of relentless international pressure and a mounting death toll, a defiant Moammar Gadhafi stuck to his assertion that youths misled and drugged by al Qaeda were to blame for the spiraling civil war in Libya.
“For them, everybody’s their enemy,” Gadhafi said in a speech aired on Libyan state television Wednesday. “They know nothing other than killing.”
The speech was pre-recorded Tuesday when Gadhafi addressed a youth group of tribal supporters, urging them to defend Libya from those who envy its standard of living.
“They want to take your petrol,” he said. “This is what America, this is what the French, those colonialists, want.”
Shortly before midnight Wednesday, Gadhafi arrived at a hotel in the capital city Tripoli where about 100 journalists had been waiting for nine hours.
Surrounded by his security detail, he strode into the lobby, waved at the throng of reporters, pumped his right fist several times into the air, retreated to a private room for an interview with a Turkish journalist, then left via a back door without addressing the reporters.
The interview was to air later Wednesday on Turkish television.
The brief appearance capped a day of confusion, which began with an opposition member first saying they were negotiating an exit deal with Gadhafi, and other members later denying it.
Gadhafi’s regime, too, denied negotiations with a spokesman calling such reports “lies.”
“We’re in an atmosphere where facts are increasingly rare,” David Kilpatrick, the Cairo bureau chief for the New York Times, told “AC 360” Tuesday night. “The Gadhafi state-run television seems far, far, far off base. It’s also true that not everything the rebels say is iron clad either.”
The confusion extended to the claims and counter-claims from the government and the opposition about gains each side made in controlling areas of the country.
Fierce battles rage on for control of key Libyan cities in the east and west. In the eastern oil city of Ras Lanuf, rebels used anti-aircraft guns to counter fresh raids by Libya’s air force Tuesday.
“There is no one here with military experience, but have a strong heart,” said medical student Yahya Ali, who was manning an antiaircraft battery in the eastern Libyan town of Al-Brega after four hours of training.
Fouad Ajami, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University, said he has been communicating with worried members of rebel groups who say they need a no-fly zone over the country to prevent casualties inflicted by Gadhafi forces.
“They’re telling us that they can’t win this fight. They’re telling us patriotism is not enough,” Ajami said on “AC 360” Tuesday night. “That unless you have air cover and neutralize the advantages of Moammar Gadhafi, this rebellion will be crushed.”
But Nicholas Burns, a former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, said implementing a no-fly zone is a complicated issue.
“There’s no assurance that the imposition of even a no-fly zone would make a decisive difference in the battle,” Burns told CNN. “Gadhafi has ground forces. He has artillery, he has a mercenary army. That’s 95% of the fighting underway in Libya.”
The head of the U.S. Marine Corps told lawmakers Tuesday that a no-fly zone would do little to thwart Libya’s helicopters which he called “their greatest threat.”
A no-fly zone would typically be enforced by fighter jets whose speed and altitude make it difficult to target helicopters, which move low and slow, said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos.
For its part, Libya said it was not misusing its air force. Any no-fly zone would be tantamount to an act of war, said Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Karim on Tuesday.
The military, he said, “are taking purely defensive positions; they are not taking offensive ones.” He said the Libyan government has asked for international monitors to verify that assertion.
The protests against the 68-year-old Gadhafi began February 15 as anti-government demonstrators sought his ouster after nearly 42 years of rule. In its fourth week now, the clashes show no sign of ending.
Death toll estimates have ranged from more than 1,000 to as many as 2,000. And the war has forced out 215,000 people, many of them poor migrant workers who have been stranded at both the Tunisian and Egyptian borders, the U.N. refugee agency has said.
While many countries chartered planes and dispatched ships to whisk away their citizens to safety, those stuck at the border are sheltered in cramped, unsanitary quarters with little to eat.
The U.N. World Food Programme has initiated a $39.2 million emergency operation intended to provide food to more than one million people in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia over a three-month period.