Western forces strike deep in Libya

Western forces strike deep in Libya

Govt assault on Misrata resumes; Nato tries for fourth day to agree on its role in campaign

Vigilant: A Libyan rebel observes on a checkpoint at the frontline near Zwitina, the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, eastern Libya, on Thursday. APAir strikes destroyed government tanks on the outskirts of rebel-held Misrata, but other tanks inside the city were not hit, a resident said, underling the difficulty of the UN-backed military mission to protect Libyans from Muammar Gadhafi.

Gadhafi’s tanks rolled back into Misrata under the cover of darkness and shelled the area near the hospital, which was also under fire from government snipers, residents and rebels said.

“The situation is very serious,” a doctor in the western town said by telephone before the line was cut off.

A resident called Abdelbasset said 6,000 workers and family members from Egypt and other African countries were stuck in the port, under the eye of two Libyan warships which moved in on Wednesday. “They haven’t attacked but if they do, the thousands of workers will be the first victims,” he said.

The continued fighting has strained an international coalition set up to try to stop Gadhafi’s assault on Libyans seeking an end to his rule, with a growing list of countries wary of attacks on ground troops that could kill civilians.

Nato members are still trying to resolve differences over the command and aims of the international operation in Libya.

Western forces, having taken out Libyan air defences, moved deeper into Libya and on to other strategic infrastructure.  France said it had hit an air base in central Libya early on Thursday, the fifth night of air strikes by Western powers on Gadhafi’s military and al Arabiya television said planes struck Sabha, a Gadhafi stronghold in southern Libya, on Thursday.

A Libyan official said fuel storage tanks and a telecommunications tower in Tripoli were among places hit by what state television called “colonialist crusaders”. A target in the Tajoura district which a resident said was a military area was also hit twice on Thursday.
Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said strikes had hit military and civilian compounds in the central Jufrah region and other targets in Tripoli, Misrata and south of Benghazi in the east, home to a emerging alternative government.

Libyan officials took Reuters journalists to a Tripoli hospital to see 18 male corpses, some charred beyond recognition, saying they were military personnel and civilians killed by Western bombing overnight.

It was the first time foreign reporters had been shown alleged victims of the airstrikes and it was not possible to verify how many were civilians. Libya says dozens have been killed; Western forces deny any have been killed in the strikes.

No-fly zone

The United States says it has successfully established a no-fly zone over the Libyan coast, begun attacking tanks and now wants to hand leadership of the mission to Nato.
“I think this is going to be a matter of days in which you see a movement towards the transition with regard to command and control,” a top aide to President Barack Obama told reporters.

But Nato’s 28 members have been unable to agree how to assume command of an operation whose final objectives remain unclear and face a fourth day of wrangling on Thursday with the main objections from Muslim member Turkey.

Seeking to allay fears of a protracted and bloody conflict, France said it could take days or weeks to destroy Gadhafi’s military, but would not need months.

“You can’t expect us to achieve our objective in just five days,” Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told reporters.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague called for Nato to take over as soon as possible.
“The case for this action remains utterly compelling, appalling violence against Libyan citizens continues to take place exposing the regime’s claims to have ordered a ceasefire to be an utter sham,” he told parliament.

Turkey said it did not want Nato to take responsibility for offensive operations that could cause civilian casualties or be in charge of enforcing a UN-mandated no-fly zone while coalition aircraft were simultaneously bombing Libyan forces.

Libyan warplane shot down

 A French fighter jet shot down a Libyan warplane over the city of Misrata in the first violation of the coalition no-fly zone over the country, ABC News said on Thursday. ABC reported the incident on its website. The report was unattributed and there was no immediate independent confirmation. ABC identified the Libyan plane as a single-engine Galeb.