Nato bombs rock Tripoli, Libya rebels advance

2011-05-10 14:45

A Nato bombing blitz which the alliance insisted was not aimed at Muammar Gaddafi has rocked Tripoli, as rebels in besieged Misrata claimed to be pushing back the Libyan strongman’s forces.

The United Nations, meanwhile, said the offensive against pro-democracy protesters launched by Gaddafi’s forces was paralysing the oil-rich nation and causing the population to suffer widespread shortages of essential goods.

Jets screamed in low over the Libyan capital this morning, carrying out an unusually heavy bombardment over roughly three hours, an AFP correspondent said.

The blasts came after Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said time was running out for Libyan leader Gaddafi.

He said Gaddafi “should realise sooner rather than later that there’s no future for him or his regime” and would ultimately lose his decades-old grip on power given the “wind of change” sweeping the Arab world, the death of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and mounting pressure on the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Nato clarified that its bombing campaign was not specifically targeting Gaddafi.

“We do not target individuals,” Nato’s deputy spokesperson Carmen Romero told AFP in Brussels. She said the bombing raid in Tripoli is part of the alliance’s strategy of destroying Gaddafi’s military machine as long as it threatens civilians, not an escalation of the campaign.

“We continue with the same strategy: to reduce the Gaddafi regime’s capacity to hit civilians as much as possible,” Romero said. Nato will “continue to attack Libyan command and control centres as well as all facilities that can be used by the Gaddafi army,” she said.

Gaddafi had escaped a similar Nato bombing blitz on May 1 in Tripoli, which killed his second youngest son, Seif al-Arab, and three of his grandchildren.

In an operational update today, Nato said it had hit three command and control facilities in the vicinity of Tripoli, one in the port city of Misrata and ammunition dumps in the vicinity of Mizdah and Sirte, Gaddafi’s home town.

Fighting has been heaviest in and around Misrata, a make-or-break city in the Libyan conflict about 200km east of the capital.

Insurgents said they have driven Gaddafi’s forces back from around Misrata, which has been besieged for weeks, and were poised to make another thrust.

After heavy clashes, the rebels controlled a stretch of coastal road west of Misrata, Libya’s third city which Gaddafi’s forces have besieged for more than two months, forcing thousands to flee.

An AFP correspondent said the rebels had forced government troops about 15km from Misrata, advancing to Dafnia, and were readying to move on Zliten, the next major town on the road to Tripoli.

Ahmad Hassan, a rebel spokesperson in Misrata, said the insurgents had also “liberated” areas south and east of the city, killing many Gaddafi troops and seizing a large amount of weapons.

Eighteen rebels and civilians were wounded.

The report could not be immediately verified.

Meanwhile the Red Cross said it delivered a shipment of humanitarian aid to Misrata amid concerns Gaddafi’s forces may have dropped mines into the harbour from helicopters bearing the Red Cross emblem.

The shipment was carrying surgical kits, spare parts to repair water and electrical supply systems, and 8 000 jars of baby food, the Red Cross said in a statement. 

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