NATO strikes shake Libyan capital

Warplanes continue to pound targets in Tripoli as US says Muammar Gaddafi will "inevitably" be forced from power.

    NATO has unleashed its heaviest blitz yet in a bid to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi [AFP]

    Two sets of three large blasts have shaken the Libyan capital Tripoli as NATO aircraft continued to target forces and infrastructure of Muammar Gaddafi, the country's embattled leader.

    Libyan television confirmed an attack on Tuesday night by "colonialist crusaders", saying at least 19 people had been killed in recent air strikes on the capital.

    "Nineteen civilians martyred and 150 were wounded in a crusader NATO strike on Tripoli and its suburbs," Jamahiriya television said, airing footage of at least three young men on stretchers with gaping head wounds and covered with dust.

    Led by France, Britain and the United States, NATO warplanes have been bombing Libya for more than two months since the United Nations authorised "all necessary measures" to protect civilians from Gaddafi's forces in the country's civil war.

    The US administration reached out earlier on Tuesday to the Libyan rebels and said Gaddafi would "inevitably" be forced from power.

    "We have degraded his war machine and prevented a humanitarian catastrophe. And we will continue to enforce the UN resolutions with our allies until they are completely complied with," Barack Obama, the US president, and David Cameron, the British prime minister, co-wrote in The Times newspaper.

    Earlier this week, Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim criticised similar Obama remarks as "delusional" saying:  "It's not Obama who decides whether Muammar Gaddafi leaves Libya or not. It's the Libyan people."

    Conflict deadlocked

    Libyan rebels who are trying to end Gaddafi's 41-year rule, control the east of the oil-producing country, but the conflict has been deadlocked for weeks.

    Reporters, whose movements are tightly controlled by the Libyan authorities, were taken to visit Tripoli's central hospital where they were shown the corpses of three men with grave head injuries.

    Mussa Ibrahim confirmed the deaths and said dozens more were wounded in the strikes that targeted what he said were buildings used by volunteer units of the Libyan army.

    NATO said in a statement the precision-guided strikes hit a vehicle storage facility that had been used in "attacks on civilians." It was not immediately clear if the facility was the only target hit in the barrage.

    "We thought it was the day of judgment," said 45-year-old Fathallah Salem, who had rushed his 75-year-old mother to the hospital after she suffered shock. He said his home trembled and the youngest of his seven children screamed in terror at the sound of the rolling blasts.

    Overstepping mandate

    NATO says it has been doing its best to minimise the risk of collateral damage but critics argue that NATO has overstepped its mandate.

    As the alliance has escalated and widened the scope of its strikes over the past weeks, many countries have moved to build closer ties with the rebel movement.

    Jordan's foreign minister Nasser Judeh has announced that his country had recognised the rebels' National Transitional Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people and would soon name a permanent envoy in Benghazi, the rebel stronghold.

    Several other countries, including France and Italy, have done the same, while the United States, European Union and others have established a diplomatic presence in Benghazi.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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