ByÂ Brendan McGarry and Kitty DonaldsonÂ -Bloomberg
Allied forces are expanding their air campaign over Libya in an effort to thwart Muammar Qaddafiâ€™s fighters and enable rebels to control cities, such as opposition capital of Benghazi, that had been under attack by troops loyal to the regime.
PresidentÂ Barack Obama said the U.S. expects to hand over military leadership to allies within days once the initial phase — knocking out air defenses to support the no-fly zone — is complete.
The most recent military actions â€œare focused on extending the no-fly zone southward, then westward from Benghazi,â€ General Carter Ham, the U.S. commander for combat operations against Libya, said in Stuttgart,Â Germany, yesterday. He said that his mandate does not including targeting Qaddafi himself and that it is â€œpossibleâ€ the Libyan dictator would remain in power for some period of time.
Rebel forces pushed out from Benghazi toward the outskirts of the embattled city of Ajdabiya, which is surrounded by pro- Qaddafi forces, theÂ Associated Press reported. Qaddafiâ€™s forces killed 40 people and wounded hundreds in an attack on the town of Misrata, a rebel stronghold east of Tripoli, al-Arabiya television reported, citing the Libyan opposition.
The allied bombardment, which began March 19, moved oil markets yesterday as fighting threatened to prolong supply disruptions. Crude oil for April delivery increased $1.26 to $102.33 a barrel on theÂ New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest settlement since March 10. The April contract expires today. The more actively traded May futures advanced $1.24, or 1.2 percent, to $103.09.
In other regional developments, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh lost support from elements of the military and the government deployed tanks to protect the presidential palace. Syrian security forces killed five people and injured dozens of others since March 18 during protests in the southern town of Daraa,Â Human Rights Watch said. And Saudi Arabian security forces arrested 89 Shiite Muslims in the Eastern Province last week, activist Ahmed al-Mushaikhes said in a telephone interview.
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