21 Mar 2011

Gaddafi command building destroyed in air raid

10:54 pm on 21 March 2011

Explosions have rocked Tripoli as Western forces stage fresh air strikes to halt Muammar Gaddafi's attacks on civilians, with one raid flattening a building near the Libyan leader's residence.

The coalition says Sunday's air strike on an administrative building in the compound destroyed Colonel Gaddafi's command and control capability. However, the United States denies that the Libyan leader was a target.

Journalists taken to the Bab al Aziziya complex say the four-storey building in the capital, about 50 metres from the tent where Colonel Gaddafi generally meets guests, was flattened.

A government spokesperson described the attack as barbaric, but said no one was hurt.

Tripoli has been rocked by powerful explosions since Britain, France and the United States began launching strikes with aircraft and cruise missiles on targets in Libya on Saturday.

It followed a United Nations Security Council resolution authorising any measures to stop Libyan government forces harming civilians in a campaign to subdue an uprising which began in February.

Colonel Gaddafi's army announced a new ceasefire on Sunday, saying it was heeding a call by the African Union for an immediate cessation of hostilities, AFP reports.

But residents of Misrata, east of the capital Tripoli, are reporting that many civilians have been killed in new tank and sniper fire attacks in residential areas by government forces.

The US has accused the Libyan government of lying about the ceasefire or breaching it immediately.

Colonel Gaddafi's government had declared a ceasefire on Friday after UN Security Council resolution 1973 authorised any necessary measures, including a no-fly zone, to stop his forces harming civilians.

However, his troops continued attacking the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in the east, sparking action by US, British and French forces from Saturday in line with the resolution.

In the West's biggest intervention in the Arab world since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, US warships and a British submarine fired about 124 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Libya on Saturday night, US military officials said.

Britain said it had launched more Tomahawk missiles on Sunday as part of a co-ordinated strike on Libyan air defences.

The first round of strikes by aircraft and cruise missiles prompted Colonel Gaddafi to warn of a long war in the Mediterranean "battlefield".

Tripoli reported dozens of deaths following the first wave of air strikes, but a spokesperson for the Pentagon says there is no indication of any civilian casualties.

US plans to hand over military control

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates says he expects France or Britain to take control of the military mission in Libya within a matter of days.

His comments emphasised the administration's view that its role is limited and others should take the lead.

While the US would continue to have a part in the coalition, it would not be pre-eminent, and Mr Gates expected France, Britain or NATO to take the lead in a matter of days.

Libyans themselves would decide the future of their country, he says.

Arab League chief criticises strikes

The head of the Arab League has criticised the air strikes, saying protection of civilians, not shelling of more civilians, is what is needed.

Libya has said 48 people were killed in the attacks.

Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa says the actions differ from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone and have led to the deaths and injuries of many Libyan civilians.

"What we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians," Egypt's official state news agency quoted Mr Moussa as saying.

The BBC says his comments are significant because the Arab League's support for the no-fly zone was a key factor in getting United Nations Security Council backing for the resolution authorising the move.

The organisation represents 22 Arab countries.

Qatar has decided to send four warplanes to join the international air campaign, the first Arab country to do so, the BBC reports.

America's most senior military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, says the operation has taken out most of the Libyan government's air capabilities.

The United Nations' refugee agency says nearly 4000 people left Libya for Egypt the day after the attack - a considerable increase on the previous day before.