NATO steps up bombing in Libya; rebels report gains

NATO increased its bombing operations against Tripoli on Tuesday, carrying out the largest attacks in weeks as rebels appeared to make advances in their efforts to break the siege of the key western city of Misurata.

The attacks on Tripoli occurred in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Jets could be heard booming over the city. Several large explosions followed, and NATO said its warplanes hit three ”œcommand-and-control” targets in the capital. NATO said its airstrikes also hit targets in Mizdah, a town 114 miles south of Tripoli; Sirte, a stronghold of Moammar Gaddafi on the Gulf of Sidra; and Misurata, a port 131 miles east of Tripoli and the only rebel-held city in the western part of the country.

The Libyan government took journalists to a hospital in central Tripoli that was next door to a government office building apparently hit by the attacks. Residents and workers there said the building was either a communications or intelligence center, although a government minder said it was currently used by the Agriculture Ministry.

”œWe are diminishing Gaddafi’s capacity to issue orders, to field troops and to fly regime jets,” Italian Brig. Gen. Claudio Gabellini, the chief operations officer of the NATO campaign, said in a news conference in Naples on Tuesday.

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  • A NATO bombing blitz which the alliance insisted was not aimed at Muammar Gaddafi rocked Tripoli on Tuesday, 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 in the early hours of Tuesday, 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 spokeswoman Carmen Romero told AFP in Brussels.

    more at AFP

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