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Libya: NATO Warplanes Bomb Gaddafi Stronghold

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LIBYA NATO GADDAFI
Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters fire their small caliber canon positioned on the frontline with the city of Bani Walid on September 13, 2011. | Getty

TRIPOLI, Libya — NATO warplanes pounded targets in a number of strongholds of support for fugitive dictator Moammar Gadhafi, the alliance said Tuesday, as an offensive by revolutionary forces on a key loyalist town stalled.

The military alliance said that airstrikes struck one radar system, eight surface-to-air missile systems, five surface-to-air missile trailers, one armed vehicle and two command vehicles Monday near Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte on the Mediterranean coast.

NATO, which has played a crucial role in crippling Gadhafi's military capabilities over the seven-month Libyan civil war, also said it struck six tanks and two armored fighting vehicles in Sabha in the southern desert.

Those two cities, along with Bani Walid southeast of the capital, are the primary bastions of Gadhafi loyalists remaining in the country more than three weeks after revolutionary forces captured Tripoli Aug. 21, effectively bringing an end to Gadhafi's nearly 42-year rule.

The ousted former dictator, whose whereabouts is unknown, urged his followers Monday in a brief message read on Syria's Al-Rai TV to keep fighting.

Gadhafi's supporters, who claim he is still in Libya, have put up fierce resistance in Bani Walid, some 90 miles (140 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli, beating back repeated attempts by revolutionary forces to take the town since launching a two-pronged assault Friday.

The former rebels say they have captured the northern half of Bani Walid, but they have struggled to push farther into the city for several days.

Families continued to stream out of Bani Walid on Tuesday to escape the heavy fighting and deteriorating living conditions. Fleeing residents say there is no electricity or running water in the town, and shops are running out of food.

Saad Mohammed, a Libyan fighter preparing for the day at the town's northern gate, said snipers were taking up positions in the minaret of a mosque in the town center, as well as a former Gadhafi villa built on the top of an ancient fort.

"We're giving a chance for the families to leave the city to escape the mortar rounds and rocketing from the Gadhafi loyalists," he said.

Also Tuesday, Canada, which has played a major role in the NATO-led air campaign against Gadhafi's military forces, said it will reopen its embassy in the Libyan capital.

Foreign Minister John Baird said a small team of diplomats arrived in Tripoli last weekend to conduct a security assessment and that Canada will establish a temporary embassy while the old one is renovated.

Baird added that Canada will resume trade with Libya and that it has secured an exemption with the United Nations to unfreeze more than $2 billion in assets for humanitarian aid in Libya.

Two major Canadian firms, the oil company Suncor and the engineering giant SNC Lavalin, have significant operations in Libya.

Since the former rebels swept into Tripoli in late August, the outside world has begun slowly opening back up to Libya.

Turkish Airlines resumed flights to Benghazi, the eastern Libyan city where the revolt against Gadhafi began, on Tuesday.

Jordan's flagship carrier, Royal Jordanian, said it will restart daily service to Benghazi on Thursday, ending a seven-month halt.

RJ head Hussein Dabbas said flights to the capital Tripoli may resume later this month, once aviation safety is ensured and the airport there can accommodate flights.

Dabbas said the decision to resume flights to Benghazi was prompted by a "strong demand" for travel there. RJ used to operate five weekly flights to Tripoli and two to Benghazi.

Around 15,000 Jordanian professionals, mainly doctors, engineers and teachers, work in Libya.

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Al-Shalchi reported from Wadi Dinar, Libya. Associated Press writer Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

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