Nato strikes Gaddafi compound after TV appearance

Nato-led air strikes hit Muammar Gaddafi’s compound on Thursday, killing six people, the Libyan regime said as rebels celebrated both the capture of Misrata airport and an invitation from Britain to open their first foreign office there.

The predawn strikes in the capital Tripoli came just hours after Libyan state television showed what it said was footage of Gaddafi meeting tribal leaders, the first new video of him aired since an April 30 air strike that his government termed an attempt on his life.

“There were three dead here, and three dead in another place” in addition to 10 wounded, said the official, gesturing to scattered sandbags next to a crater in a street of the Bab al-Azaziyah compound.

Both he and another regime minder escorting foreign media on a tour of the site said all the casualties were civilians.

Four explosions were heard in quick succession in the early hours as Nato-led jets flew over the compound.

Two plumes of white smoke could be seen rising above the city following the blasts, as emergency vehicle sirens wailed and sporadic gunfire rang out.

Tribal summit
Late on Wednesday state television had shown footage of what it said was a meeting between Gaddafi and tribal dignitaries from the rebel-held east.

A Libyan official said the video was shot around 7:30pm (17:30 GMT).

It was the first fresh footage of Gaddafi since an airstrike killed his son Seif al-Arab and three of his grandchildren, in what the government described as “a direct operation to assassinate the leader of this country”.

Nato representatives have repeatedly insisted that they have made no attempt to strike individual leaders of the Libyan government, but have only targeted its capacity to harm civilians.

A statement from the Western alliance said Nato-led aircraft carried out 46 strike sorties on Wednesday, including raids which took out four ammunition caches, four command and control facilities and two surface-to-air missile launchers in and around Tripoli, and one launcher near Misrata.

First foreign mission
In London, the rebels’ leader, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, held talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron — buoyed by their capture of Misrata airport on Wednesday which gave them full control of Libya’s third city, their only significant stronghold in the west.

Cameron invited Abdul Jalil’s National Transitional Council — the rebels’ provisional administration — to open an office in London, their first foreign mission.

He said Britain would from now regard the council as “the legitimate political interlocutor” in Libya, and its “primary partner”.

Previously Britain had described the council only as a legitimate interlocutor.

The prime minister said Britain was also boosting its diplomatic team in the rebel-controlled city of Benghazi, including by adding a new special representative to the council.

Police boost
“[In addition,] we are now completing plans to transfer several million pounds worth of equipment to the police in Benghazi. We will also provide new support to improve the council’s public broadcasting capacities,” Cameron said.

“These steps signal our very clear intent to work with you and your colleagues to ensure that Libya has a safe and stable future, free from the tyranny of the Gaddafi regime,” he added.

Britain did not extend full diplomatic recognition to the rebels as its European partners France and Italy have done, along with Gambia and Qatar.

The rebels’ capture of Misrata airport was their first significant advance in weeks and residents of the city celebrated into the night, an AFP correspondent said.

Rebel fighters were gearing up on Thursday for an assault on the town of Zlitan that would take them another step closer to the capital Tripoli.

Road to Tripoli
Salah Badi, who commanded the assault on the airport, said rebel positions were now only 10km from Zliten, the next main centre on the 215km-long coastal road from Misrata to Tripoli.

After resting, the rebel fighters would attempt to continue their advance on Zliten, Badi said.

The airport’s capture is significant, as the rebel-held city had been nearly cut off from the outside world. Its port, which has been repeatedly shelled, has been the only route in or out.

Human rights groups have warned of a looming humanitarian catastrophe in the city of 500 000 people, which faces acute shortages of food and medical supplies.

At least three rockets struck the strategic rebel-held crossroads town of Ajdabiya on the front line between the rebel-held east and the mainly government-held west, residents and a medic said.

No casualties were reported.

Oil target
Ajdabiya has been under rebel control for several weeks now, but there is continuing fighting with government forces who hold the oil town of Brega, 80km to the west.

On Monday, six rebels were killed in heavy fighting between the two towns and on Wednesday, a small loyalist force conducted a raid 6km from Ajdabiya, killing one and wounding two. — AFP

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W.G. Dunlop
Wg Dunlop
Editor for @AFP in DC. Six years in Iraq, also reported from the Gulf, Levant & North Africa. Usual caveats.

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