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NATO Pounds Tripoli In Rare Daytime Strike, Prompting Fury From Qaddafi

June 07, 2011

NATO warplanes have unleashed an unprecedented daytime bombing assault on government targets in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, driving the country's leader, Muammar Qaddafi, to pick up the phone and furiously declare on state television that he will never surrender.

"To the gutless [cowards]: you will not frighten the Libyan people," Qaddafi said. "Tripoli has been attacked many times throughout history by the Byzantines, Spanish, Romans, Italians, and Maltese -- even though Tripoli has been attacked many times, it is still resisting. Victory to Libyans!"

Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said today was the heaviest day of shelling since the NATO mission to protect civilians from pro-government forces began just over two months ago. He claimed that some 29 people had been killed in 60 strikes on Tripoli.

Daylight NATO raids are rare and today's action was focused on government targets, including many structures inside Qaddafi's compound. Witnesses in the capital reported seeing ambulances tearing through town and hearing the thundering of bombs.

A spokesman for the British defense ministry said targets included a secret police headquarters in the heart of Tripoli and a major military installation on the outskirts.

Defense staff spokesman Major General Nick Pope said the missions "were flown as part of a coordinated series of precision attacks throughout the day and night by NATO aircraft targeting intelligence and military facilities in the Libyan capital."

Ending The Stalement

Journalists taken on an escorted tour of the Qaddafi's bomb damaged compound were shown a dead body draped in a green Libyan flag, which Ibrahim said was one of several casualties from the air strikes.

He also said NATO would not succeed in toppling the regime. "We believe that NATO understands very well that its military campaign against the Libyan nation is failing miserably. As the Libyan nation proves day after day, it's rallying behind its leadership and the unity of the country," Ibrahim said.

With the sound of low-flying fighter aircraft in the background, Qaddafi's phone call to state television -- which listeners said seemed to catch the station by surprise -- was an angry denunciation of the rebels who first rose up against him in mid-February as "bastards."

Before hanging up abruptly, the isolated ruler shouted, "We will not kneel! We will not surrender! We only have one choice - to the end! Death, victory, it does not matter, we are not surrendering!"

Qaddafi's troops and the rebels have been in a stand-off for weeks -- neither side able to hold territory on a road between Ajdabiyah and the government-held oil town of Brega further west.

Rebels control the country's east, the western city of Misrata, and mountains near Tunisian border. They have been unable to advance on the capital against Qaddafi's better-equipped forces, despite NATO air strikes.

NATO officials have recently been warning that they planned to increase the scope and intensity of their efforts to end the stalemate.

Qaddafi has been in hiding for weeks but was seen briefly in public late last month during failed peace negotiation talks with visiting South African President Jacob Zuma.

One of his sons and three of his grandchildren were killed during a NATO strike in April on one of his homes.

China's Rebel Overtures

The intense daytime raid on Qaddafi's compound came as U.S. President Barack Obama said in Washington that it is "only a matter of time' before he is forced to leave.

At a news conference following a White House meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Obama described "significant" progress in the NATO mission.

"What you are seeing across [Libya] is an inexorable trend of the regime forces being pushed back, being incapacitated, you are seeing defections, often times of some very high-profile members of the Qaddafi government as well as the military, and I think it is just a matter of time before Qaddafi goes," he said.

Obama also said he told Merkel that he expects Germany to play a significant role in Libya's reconstruction once the fighting ends. Germany has refused to engage its military directly to support the NATO mission.

Also today, UN envoy Abdul-Elah al-Khatib was expected to arrive in Libyan, though government spokesman Ibrahim would not offer details on his agenda while there.

Meanwhile, Tripoli has sent Foreign Minister Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi to Beijing for talks in what appears to be an effort to counter China's June 3 announcement that it had reached out to the rebel forces.

Last week Beijing announced that the head of Libya's rebel council met with China's ambassador to Qatar in Doha in the first known contact between the two sides.

Observers say Beijing, which has remained on the sidelines of the conflict, could be angling for a mediation role.

Unrelated to China's move was a meeting today in the Libyan city of Benghazi today, where a Russian delegation met with the rebel's National Transitional Council.

Russia's Special Representative for Africa Mikhail Margelov said Qaddafi has lost his legitimacy but NATO airstrikes are not a solution to the stalemate.

Russia and China both abstained from voting for the UN resolution authorizing the use of force against Libyan government loyalists.

Written by Heather Maher with agency material.


Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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