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Waves of NATO aircraft intensify strikes on Tripoli

Posted by Admin on June 7, 2011

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110607/wl_nm/us_libya

By Peter Graff 2 hrs 27 mins ago

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Waves of NATO aircraft hit Tripoli on Tuesday in the most sustained bombardment of the Libyan capital since Western forces began air strikes in March.

By Tuesday afternoon, war planes were striking different parts of the city several times an hour, hour after hour, rattling windows and sending clouds of grey smoke into the sky, a Reuters correspondent in the center of the city said.

The Libyan government attributed earlier blasts to NATO air strikes on military compounds in the capital, a day after rebels drove Muammar Gaddafi‘s forces out of a western town.

Bombs have been striking the city every few hours since Monday, at a steadily increasing pace. On Tuesday they began before 11 a.m. (5 a.m. ET) and were continuing five hours later.

Air strikes were previously rarer and usually at night.

Some of the bombs appeared to hit in the vicinity of Gaddafi’s vast Bab al-Aziziya residential compound.

A Libyan official, speaking over a loudspeaker in a hotel where foreign journalists stay under government supervision, said some strikes had hit the Popular Guard compound and the Revolutionary Guard compound, giving no comment on casualties.

A NATO military official in Naples, headquarters of the alliance’s Libya operation, confirmed the current strikes were the heaviest on Tripoli so far.

“Definitely there are more strikes going into Tripoli than there have been in the past … This is just to increase the pressure on the Gaddafi regime and it’s been going on like this for a couple of days now …”

“The targets we are striking are the same types as … in the past — command and control, ammunition storage, vehicle storage — any function or system the Gaddafi regime can use to attack civilians.”

Libyan TV said late on Monday NATO had bombed the al-Karama neighbourhood and a civilian telecommunications station.

NATO said it hit a military “command and control target.”

Further east, Gaddafi’s troops and the rebels have been in stalemate for weeks, neither able to hold territory on a road between Ajdabiyah, which Gaddafi’s forces shelled on Monday, and the Gaddafi-held oil town of Brega further west.

Rebels control the east of Libya, the western city of Misrata and the range of mountains near the border with Tunisia. They have been unable to advance on the capital against Gaddafi’s better-equipped forces, despite NATO air strikes.

DIPLOMATIC CONTACT WITH REBELS

But world powers are increasingly making diplomatic overtures to the rebels, including Russia and China — despite misgivings about interference in Libya’s sovereign affairs.

Mikhail Margelov, Special Representative for the President of Russia for Africa, told journalists in the rebel capital of Benghazi on Tuesday that Gaddafi can no longer represent Libya.

“We highly believe that Gaddafi has lost his legitimacy after the first bullet shot against the Libyan people,” he said.

“Russia is ready to help politically, economically and in any possible way … That is why we have established a direct relationship with the national council here in Benghazi.”

In Beijing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said an Egypt-based Chinese diplomat had visited Benghazi for talks with the rebel-led National Transitional Council, adding to signs that China too is courting the insurgents.

China has officially declined to take sides, but its moves reflect growing recognition that Gaddafi’s days in power may be numbered, said Yin Gang, an expert on Arab affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Libya’s pro-Gaddafi Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi is visiting China as a “special envoy” for his government and will hold talks with his counterpart Yang Jiechi on “the situation in Libya and (finding) a political solution to the Libyan crisis,” the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in a statement that France — the first country to recognize the rebels — sees the National Transitional Council as representative of Libya.

“After being found guilty of the most serious crimes against the Libyan people, in breach of international law, authorities related to Col. Gaddafi cannot claim any role in representing the Libyan state,” Juppe said.

Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez will travel to Benghazi to meet rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil on Wednesday, her ministry said.

ICG URGES CEASEFIRE

Western governments and rebels say a combination of NATO air strikes, diplomatic isolation and grassroots opposition will eventually end Gaddafi’s rule.

Gaddafi refuses to step down, saying he is supported by all Libyans apart from a minority of “rats” and al Qaeda fighters, and that NATO strikes are a Western plot to steal Libya’s oil.

In a report on Monday, the International Crisis Group (ICG) urged the rebels and their NATO allies to propose a ceasefire, arguing that demands that Gaddafi step down as a pre-condition and threats of war crimes charges had forced him into a corner.

“The (rebels) and their NATO supporters appear uninterested in resolving the conflict through negotiation,” it said.

“To insist that he (Gaddafi) go now, as the precondition for any negotiation … is to render a ceasefire all but impossible and so to maximize the prospect of continued armed conflict. To insist that he both leave … and face trial in the International Criminal Court is virtually to ensure that he will stay in Libya to the bitter end and go down fighting.”

In a sign NATO strikes may be aiding the rebel advance, the rebels seized Yafran, 100 km (60 miles) southwest of Tripoli, on Monday, after British warplanes had destroyed two tanks and two armored personnel carriers there on June 2.

In Brussels on Monday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he would repeat calls for NATO allies to boost involvement at an alliance defense ministers meeting this week.

NATO decided last week to extend operations in Libya until the end of September.

(Additional reporting by Sherine El Madany in Benghazi, Youssef Boudlal in Yafran, Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers, Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, Elizabeth Pineau in Paris, Tim Cocks in Tunis, Chris Buckley in Beijing and Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Tim Pearce)

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