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NATO Missile Strikes In Libya Target Gaddafi's Tripoli Compound, Say Witnesses

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LIBYA
A Libyan man wears a pre-Gadhafi national flag in Benghazi, Libya, Monday, May 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) | AP

May 10, 2011 4:51:59 AM

By Guy Desmond

TRIPOLI, May 10 (Reuters) - NATO launched a number of missile strikes against targets in the Tripoli area on Tuesday that appeared to include Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's compound, witnesses said.

Libyan officials said four children were wounded, two of them seriously, by flying glass caused by blasts from NATO strikes in the Tripoli area overnight.

Officials showed foreign journalists a hospital in the Libyan capital where some windows had been shattered, apparently due to the blast waves from a NATO strike that toppled a nearby telecommunications tower.

The journalists were also taken to a government building housing the high commission for children that had been completely destroyed. The old colonial building had been damaged before in what officials said was a NATO strike on April 30.

"The direction of at least one blast suggests Gaddafi's compound has been targeted," said one witness.

No other information was immediately available, but the Tripoli blasts occurred against a backdrop of a stalemate in the rebel war to unseat Gaddafi and the resulting dilemma for Western powers over whether to offer covert aid to the rebels.

Few details were immediately available, but the blasts occurred against a backdrop of a stalemate in the rebel war to unseat Gaddafi and the resulting dilemma for Western powers over whether to offer covert aid to the rebel cause.

On Monday, rebels said NATO bombed government arms depots four times during the day about 30 km (20 miles) southeast of Zintan, a town in the Western Mountains region where conflict is escalating.

"The site has some 72 underground hangars made of reinforced concrete. We don't know how many were destroyed. But each time the aircraft struck we heard multiple explosions," a rebel spokesman, who gave his name as Abdulrahman, said by telephone.

Another rebel spokesman said the planes also struck around Tamina and Chantine, east of Misrata, where besieged rebels are clinging on in the last city they control in western Libya.

Gaddafi's forces have launched a ferocious assault on Misrata and hundreds have been killed in weeks of fighting.

Opposition newspaper Brnieq said Libyan rebels were leading an uprising in the suburbs of Tripoli after being supplied with light weapons by defecting security service officers.

The report on the newspaper's website could not be independently verified. A Reuters reporter said he could not hear any gunfire and a government official denied the report.

Two months into a conflict linked to this year's uprisings in other Arab countries, rebels hold Benghazi and towns in the east while the government controls the capital and other cities.

The government says most Libyans support Gaddafi, the rebels are armed criminals and al Qaeda militants, and NATO's intervention is an act of colonial aggression by Western powers intent on stealing the country's oil.

Libyan state television reinforced that view, saying NATO warships bombed "military and civilian targets" in Misrata and in the adjacent town of Zlitan on Monday.

WESTERN DILEMMA

The military deadlock confronts allies including the United States, Britain and France with a choice over whether to exploit loopholes in the sanctions regime they engineered in February and March to help the rebels, analysts and U.N. diplomats said.

Another option would be to circumvent the sanctions secretly but both courses risk angering Russia and China. They wield U.N. Security Council vetoes and are increasingly critical of NATO's operations under a resolution aimed at protecting civilians.

The rebels face a government with superior firepower and resources but they reported a financial breakthrough on Monday, selling oil worth $100 million paid for through a Qatari bank in U.S. dollars.

A rebel military commander said his fighters killed 57 troops and destroyed 17 military vehicles during a major battle west of the insurgent-held city of Ajdabiya on Monday.

The commander, whose statement could not be immediately verified, also told Al-Jazeera television two rebels were killed in the fighting, halfway between Ajdabiya and the strategic oil port of Brega where Gaddafi forces are entrenched.

Given the rebels' failure to achieve their main target of toppling Gaddafi, the war is focused on Misrata, Zintan and a Libyan border crossing near the Tunisian town of Dehiba.

Two rebel spokesmen in Misrata spoke of intense fighting in the city and at its strategically important airport.

Rebels were trying to extinguish fires at a fuel storage depot bombarded by the government on Friday.

A ship chartered by the International Committee of the Red Cross arrived in Misrata, bringing medical supplies, spare parts to repair water and electrical systems and baby food.

The war has killed thousands and caused extensive suffering, not least for tens of thousands of economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa forced to flee overland or by boat.

Dozens have died trying to reach Italy and the migration creates not only the possibility of a humanitarian crisis but also poses a political headache for NATO and the European Union.

(Reporting by Joseph Nasr in Berlin, Matt Robinson in Dehiba, Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers, David Brunnstrom in Brussels, Louis Charbonneau in New York and Sami Aboudi in Cairo; Editing by Ralph Gowling)

Copyright 2011 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

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