The International Criminal Court will investigate Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, his sons and his inner circle for possible crimes against humanity in the violent crackdown on anti-government protesters, the prosecutor said Thursday.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Gaddafi's security forces were alleged to have attacked "peaceful demonstrators" in several towns and cities across Libya since Feb. 15, according to reports.
Moreno-Ocampo said: "We have identified some individuals with de facto or formal authority, who have authority over the security forces" as having command over the forces that may have committed crimes. "They are Muammar Gaddafi, his inner circle, including some of his sons."
He also warned that leaders of the Libyan opposition, who have seized weapons from the Libyan military, could be investigated if allegations were raised against them.
On Thursday, Libyan fighter planes were targeting the eastern port of Brega a day after rebels celebrated victory over a major counteroffensive by Muammar Gaddafi’s troops in the strategic port.
Earlier, jubilant fighters had been roaming Brega's streets firing guns in the air in triumph, the BBC reported. On Wednesday the town 460 miles east of Tripoli was the scene of a fierce battle between opposition forces and several hundred pro-Gaddafi troops that left 14 people dead.
But a witness told The Associated Press the town was once again being targeted in bombing raids by government aircraft.
But Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi's son, called the bombing raids a "big misunderstanding" designed to scare off rebels.
In an interview with Sky News, Islam said: "First of all the bombs [were] just to frighten them to go away. Not to kill them."
Separately, officials in the Netherlands confirmed that pro-Gaddafi forces had captured three crew members of a Dutch naval helicopter who had been on a mission to airlift European citizens last Sunday.
Dutch Defense Ministry spokesman Otte Beeksma told the New York Times that the Lynx helicopter had been surrounded by government forces in the coastal Gaddafi stronghold of Sirte. Two Europeans being rescued were later released to the Dutch Embassy in Tripoli.
The capture of the helicopter crew is believed to be the first report of foreigners being held since the Libyan uprising began on Feb. 17. In a televised address on Wednesday, Gaddafi warned foreign intervention in his country could turn it into “another Vietnam.”
Gaddafi, has meanwhile been reportedly speaking with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez about proposals to send an international mediation team to Libya to find a peaceful solution to the unrest.
"All the contacts that Venezuela is making with the Arab world and the entire world is for peace in Libya. Tomorrow new developments,” Venezuelan Information Minister Andrez Izarra said on Twitter Wednesday, according to CNN.
The move came after some of the fiercest fighting yet seen in the current turmoil in Libya. The battle for Brega, which has been held by opposition forces since last week, began when several hundred pro-Gaddafi troops entered the city on vehicles mounted with machine guns.
The pro-government forces initially seized control of the oil facilities, port and airstrip. However, by day's end, with the help of citizen militias from nearby cities, the opposition regained control.
"By afternoon, they had lost it all and had retreated to a university campus 5 miles (7 kilometers) away. There, opposition fighters besieged them, clambering from the beach up a hill to the campus as mortars and heavy machine gun fire blasted around them," AP reported.
"They took cover behind grassy dunes, firing back with assault rifles, machine guns and grenade launchers. At one point, a warplane struck in the dunes to try to disperse them, but it caused no casualties and the siege continued."
Dozens of men gathered in a square near the university celebrating and flashing victory signs after the battle ended. Moments later, a government fighter jet launched two missiles at them, but it caused no casualties, according to Al Jazeera.
Gaddafi warns of "another Vietnam"
In his address Wednesday, Gaddafi offered an amnesty for rebels who handed back their weapons, promising "forgiveness" at the same time as his forces advanced on rebel-held positions, reportedly pounding opposition fighters with aerial bombing raids.
In a three-hour long speech in Tripoli, Gaddafi warned that his country would be turned into "another Vietnam" if foreign countries intervened, the Guardian reported.
"We will enter a bloody war and thousands and thousands of Libyans will die if the United States enters or NATO enters," he said.
The Libyan leader, speaking at a public rally in the capital to mark 34 years of “people power,” also said that he was not a president and so could not resign his position as power was in the hands of the people.
"Attacks on me are seen by Libyan people as attacks on their symbol and dignity,” he said. “The foreigners want Gaddafi to step down, to step down from what? Gaddafi is just a symbol for the Libyan people. ... This is how the Libyan people understood it."
"The people are free to choose the authority they see fit," he said.
Gaddafi, who has sought to reassert his authority amid mounting calls for international military intervention, also offered a handful of concessions — including a free press — aimed at those supporting the opposition forces that control more than half the country.
Meanwhile, the USS Ponce and the USS Kearsarge, amphibious assault ships that typically carry Marines, cleared the Suez Canal from the Red Sea and entered the Mediterranean closer to Libyan shores on orders from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, an official told Reuters.
And a massive airlift of Egyptian refugees began Wednesday from the Libyan-Tunisian border to Cairo and Verona, Italy, involving British, French and Tunisian planes.
The three countries were answering an urgent request from the United Nations to help 85,000 refugees stranded in camps in Tunisia and so prevent a humanitarian disaster, according to the BBC.
180,000 flee violence in Libya
Nearly 180,000 people, mainly foreign workers, have fled the violence in Libya into the neighboring nations of Tunisia and Egypt, the U.N. refugee agency said Thursday.
Many have been trapped in a no-man's land on the border between Libya and Tunisia and Libya and Egypt, according to CNN. About 95,000 people have crossed into Tunisia and another 83,000 into Egypt, the U.N. estimated.
Among them are Bangladeshis, Vietnamese, Thais, Koreans, Malians, Ghanaians and Sudanese who came to Libya for work.
Egypt's caretaker government has paid for a number of flights from coastal Djerba to Cairo. According to CNN, as of Thursday afternoon 17 flights had left carrying about 2,700 passengers. Another 13 were scheduled to carry 2,080 more passengers out Thursday.
The European Union, meanwhile, is to increase aid to address the growing refugee crisis stemming from the conflict in Libya to $42 million dollars, officials said Friday according to DPA.
— Barry Neild, Hanna Ingber Win, Freya Petersen