BREAKING NEWS: LIBYA: Tripoli Rocked By Explosions For A Third Night: UPDATED

21 Mar

Loud explosions and barrages of anti-aircraft tracer fire have been heard near the Tripoli compound of Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Explosions Rock Tripoli For Third Night Play video

Witnessed by Sky News foreign correspondent Lisa Holland, the night sky was lit up with tracer fire as gunners sought out aircraft imposing a no-fly zone over Libya.

“There were two or three explosions, then a missile, and anti-aircraft fire spraying the sky,” Holland said.

“There was a lull for about 45 minutes and then a second round of explosions here in Tripoli.

“There are unconfirmed reports that Col Gaddafi’s compound has been hit for a second night in a row.”

The action comes hours after Prime Minister David Cameron spoke in the House of Commons about the Libyan military action.

Mr Cameron told MPs that Col Gaddafi’s long-range networked air defences have been “largely neutralised”.

“As a result the no-fly zone has effectively been put in place over Libya,” he said.

Mr Cameron also confirmed that control of the campaign will transition from US control to a Nato-led mission as part of implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1973.

“Let me explain how the coalition will work – it’s operating under US command with the intention that this will transfer to Nato,” Mr Cameron said.

“This would mean that all Nato allies who wanted to contribute to the mission would be able to.

But not all 28 Nato nations are eager to undertake action, with Germany being the most vociferous in opposition to a military campaign in Libya.

Meanwhile Nato has already increased its surveillance flights in the Mediterranean and started developing humanitarian assistance plans.

Military officials earlier confirmed the success of the three-day campaign to impose the no-fly zone in parts of Libya.

Speaking this morning at a Ministry of Defence news briefing, Major General John Lorimer said: “We are satisfied that our attacks and those of our partners have been highly effective in degrading the Libyan air defence and command and control capability.”

The MoD said coalition bombing raids had forced pro-Gaddafi forces to retreat from Benghazi, but there was evidence elsewhere that assaults were being stepped up.

The no-fly zone will be extended from around Benghazi, further south and then west – with it eventually extending to the capital of Tripoli.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the US Africa command revealed that only 12 missiles were fired overnight, compared to around 110 missiles launched when action stated on March 19.

Libyan officials said an administrative building at the heart of Col Gaddafi’s Tripoli compound was destroyed by a cruise missile.

Described by a coalition official as one of the Libyan leader’s “command and control” facility, it was later confirmed by US sources as being fired from a Royal Navy submarine.

Smoke was seen rising from the dictator’s heavily fortified compound which houses his private quarters, iconic tent, as well as military barracks and other installations.

Confusion still exists over the Libyan dictator being targeted by the Western-led forces.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox suggested that Col Gaddafi is himself a target, despite Pentagon spokesman William Gortney saying: “We are not going after Gaddafi.”

A senior UK military source confirmed to Sky News this morning that Libya’s commander-in-chief is “a legitimate military target”.

In the Commons Mr Cameron was made to clarify the Government’s position regarding the targeting of Col Gaddafi.

Political editor Adam Boulton said: “David Cameron is still saying he wants Gaddafi to go but being forced to admit that is not within the UN resolution.”

Further complication has been added by the position taken by Libyan opposition leaders, with a rebel envoy telling the AP that they wanted the dictator tried in a court of law.

Sky’s foreign affairs correspondent Lisa Holland, reporting from Tripoli under the supervision of the Libyan government, said the regime was in no doubt that it was being “specifically targeted”.

“Col Gaddafi’s regime is absolutely furious,” Holland said.

“The international community’s position, as far as the regime is concerned, is that Colonel Gaddafi is not a target, but they say that any missile that goes near his compound is an attempt to take him out.”

Libyan officials took reporters into the area this morning to show them the three-storey building in ruins along with shrapnel apparently from the missile.

It was unclear where Col Gaddafi was at the time of the strike. The attack was part of a renewed allied assault on Libya involving sub-surface and air assets.

The Trafalgar-class submarine HMS Triumph fired Tomahawk missiles from an undisclosed location in the Mediterranean.

A separate mission with RAF Tornado jets from RAF Marham in Norfolk was aborted near Libya after it emerged there were civilians within the target area, the MoD added.

Sky News defence correspondent Niall Paterson said the decision to halt the air strike came after several journalists were discovered to be reporting live from near the intended target.

In the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi fighting has continued between rebels and pro-Gaddafi troops.

Sky correspondent Emma Hurd, in Benghazi, said: “Last night, there was a heavy fire-fight in the city. The rebels say they came under attack from pro-Gaddafi elements and they sense there is an enemy from within.

“There is also broad confusion among the rebels about what support they can expect under the UN Security Council resolution, and if they advance from Benghazi, what level of air support will be provided by allied forces.”

AFP said that according to rebels at least 40 people have been killed by pro-Gaddafi forces in the western Libyan city of Misratah today.

US forces, who have taken the lead in the coalition action so far, said radar and air defence installations have been destroyed along with a military control tower.

The Pentagon said that as a result Col Gaddafi’s capacity to deploy his attack helicopters and aircraft has been removed, and there is now a “patrol posture”.

The onslaught on Gaddafi’s forces continued despite two ceasefires announced by the Libyan authorities, which were treated with suspicion in London and Washington.

Downing Street said on Sunday that Col Gaddafi remained in breach of his obligations under last week’s UN resolution, which the coalition would continue to enforce.

“Everyone will recall that in recent days Colonel Gaddafi declared a ceasefire which was promptly violated,” said a spokesman for Number 10.

“We said then we would judge him on his actions not his words – and we will do so again.”

RAF Typhoons are now at the southern Italian air base of Gioia del Colle, after deploying from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire to be within 25 minutes’ flying of Libya.

Four planes from Arab state Qatar, as well as those from Belgium, Denmark and Spain, are scheduled to join Britain, France, Canada and the US in patrolling the no-fly zone.

The UN Security Council will hold closed-door consultations on the Libyan situation later today, diplomats said.

US President Barack Obama admitted that his country’s existing military demands and domestic economic concerns are driving the desire to not be leading the coalition. 

“Our military is already very stretched and carries large burdens around the world,” Mr Obama said.

“(The coalition) relieves the burden on our military and our taxpayers.”

US defence secretary Robert Gates earlier said his country would not have the “pre-eminent” role in the coalition.

Libyan state TV claimed that at least 60 civilians were killed and more than 100 wounded since the allied action started on Saturday.

However, the claims were dismissed by the US as propaganda and the MoD said there was no evidence of any civilian casualties

There were signs of unease in the Arab world over the scale and nature of the attacks.

Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa said on Sunday: “What has happened in Libya differs from the goal of imposing a no-fly zone. What we want is the protection of civilians and not bombing other civilians.”

However, today he said that the group respected the UN resolution and there was “no conflict” with it.

:: Four journalists from the New York Times – including reporter Stephen Farrell who was taken hostage previously in Iraq and Afghanistan – were released by Libyan officials after being held since March 15.

NEWS UPDATE:

Forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi surrounded Misrata, the only big rebel stronghold in western Libya, killing at least nine people, cutting off its water and bringing in human shields, residents have said.

Putin likens Libya air strikes to ‘crusades’ Play video
“The people of Misrata went into the streets and to the (city) centre, unarmed, in an attempt to stop Gaddafi’s forces entering the city,” a resident told Reuters.

“When they gathered in the centre the Gaddafi forces started shooting at them with artillery and guns. They committed a massacre,” the resident, who gave his name as Saadoun, added.

This could not be independently verified because Libyan authorities prevented reporters from reaching the city.

Hassan, a rebel spokesman, said that Gaddafi loyalists are forcing people from neighbouring towns and cities to come to Misrata.

“They are bringing them to Misrata so they can enter the city and control it by using the civilians as human shields because they know we are not going to shoot women and children and old people,” he said.

The United States, carrying out air strikes against Gaddafi forces in a coalition with Britain, France, Italy and Norway among others, said the campaign was working well and dismissed a ceasefire announcement by the Libyan military on Sunday evening.

NEWS UPDATE:

Moamer Kadhafi’s Tripoli compound was rocked by blasts on Monday and his southern strongholds and a navy base were bombed as international criticism mounted over the air assault on Libya.

 A Eurofighter Typhoon Italian jet pilot speaks to the press at Gioia del Colle airbase Enlarge photo
Rebels, meanwhile, said they were under intense attack by Kadhafi’s forces in the city of Misrata near Tripoli and an AFP reporter saw them beaten back from a frail attempt to retake the eastern key town of Ajdabiya.

In Cairo, the Arab League on Monday reaffirmed its support for Operation Odyssey Dawn after the previous day saying the air strikes led by the United States, France and Britain went beyond the scope of a UN resolution to implement a no-fly zone.

The operation was launched on Saturday to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973 aimed at stopping Kadhafi’s forces harming civilians as they battle a month-long uprising.

And as divisions over the air strikes emerged in NATO, the United States said the ultimate goal of the operation is the departure of Kadhafi.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, however, said there was no legal authority for regime change in Libya.

State television said the capital Tripoli came under attack after dark. Loud explosions and anti-aircraft fire ripped across the night sky near Kadhafi’s residence at around 1900 GMT, an AFP reporter said.

Similar explosions rocked the capital on Sunday night, with coalition officials on Monday saying an administrative building in Kadhafi’s fortified complex had been destroyed by a cruise missile.

Witnesses said a Libyan navy base some 10 kilometres (six miles) east of the capital was also bombarded late on Monday.

They said the Bussetta base was hit at 1900 GMT.

A Libyan government spokesman, Mussa Ibrahim, told a Tripoli news conference coalition warplanes on Monday bombarded the southern town of Sebha, bastion of Kadhafi’s Guededfa tribe.

Ibrahim also claimed that Misrata, Libya’s third city 214 kilometres (132 miles) east of Tripoli, was “liberated three days ago” and that Kadhafi’s forces were hunting “terrorist elements.”

But a rebel spokesman reached by telephone in Misrata insisted the insurgents remained in control despite an onslaught by Kadhafi loyalists, who he said opened fire with tanks and set snipers on roofs to gun down people in the streets.

A medic in Misrata, speaking by telephone against a background of gunfire, confirmed a death toll of 40 and said at least 300 people had been wounded.

“Casualties fell in their dozens,” after snipers and a tank “fired on demonstrators,” the rebel spokesman said.

The Libyan’s strongman’s troops had not yet taken Misrata, but “have taken up position along the main road where they have deployed three tanks, as well as positioning snipers on rooftops,” the rebel spokesman said.

Kadhafi’s troops retreated 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the insurgents’ capital of Benghazi after fierce strafing by coalition aircraft destroyed much of their armour, but beat off a rebel advance on their new positions in Ajdabiya on Monday.

As rebels who massed in their hundreds outside Ajdabiya advanced towards their position, the government troops opened fire with artillery and remaining tanks, scattering the insurgents.

General Carter Ham, head of the US Africa Command, said that US forces had no mission to support a ground offensive by the rebels, but at the same time Kadhafi’s troops in the Benghazi area show “little will or capability to resume offensive operations.”

The United States and France denied coalition forces would target Kadhafi, whose whereabouts were unknown on Monday, as did the head of Britain’s armed forces after Foreign Secretary William Hague had refused to rule it out.

But Washington made it clear that they wanted Kadhafi out.

“We’re trying to convince Colonel Kadhafi and his regime, and his associates, that they need to step down from power,” said state department spokesman Mark Toner. “That remains our ultimate goal here.”

NATO struggled on Monday to overcome divisions about a role in the military operation in Libya, as France resisted pressure to let the alliance take over and Turkey criticised the bombing campaign.

As more nations joined the Western coalition pounding Kadhafi’s forces, NATO was still debating whether, and in what form, the Western military organisation should join the UN-mandated intervention.

NATO members France, Britain and the United States have acted as individual nations in the air and sea campaign against Kadhafi’s regime, with US military officers coordinating operations from bases in Germany and Italy.

But London, Rome and several other alliance members favour moving to a centralised NATO command, with Norway even saying its six fighter jets would stay grounded as long as it was unclear who was running the operations.

“It shouldn’t be a war on Libya,” said Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, while Bulgaria labelled military intervention an “adventure” driven by oil interests.

Germany, which abstained on Resolution 1973, said the action in Libya justified Berlin’s decision not to take part.

A UN diplomat said in New York the UN Security Council will meet on Thursday at the request of Kadhafi’s regime, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would address it.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa, meanwhile, expressed full support on Monday for Resolution 1973, saying comments the previous day that the air strikes exceeded the UN mandate had been “misinterpreted.”

“We are committed to the UNSC Resolution 1973, we have no objection to this decision, particularly as it does not call for an invasion of Libyan territory,” he said after meeting Ban in Cairo.

Ban appealed for unity over implementing Resolution 1973.

“It is important that the international community speak with one voice to implement the second council resolution,” he said, adding that “strong and decisive measures” had been possible only because of Arab League support for a no-fly zone.

Belgian and Spanish warplanes began patrolling Libyan skies on Monday, Danish and French aircraft launched new missions, Italy helped to suppress air defences and Norwegian fighters left for Italian bases, respective official sources said.

Kadhafi on Sunday promised “a long, drawn-out war with no limits” in a speech broadcast on state television but without appearing on camera, and Ham said on Monday Washington knew little about his whereabouts.

Explosions Rock Tripoli For Third Night Play video

Libya: Airstrike Hits Gaddafi Compound Play video

Explosions Rock Tripoli For Third Night Enlarge photo

Video: Explosions Rock Tripoli For Third Night

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A Eurofighter Typhoon Italian jet pilot speaks to the press at Gioia del Colle airbase Enlarge photo

Libyan onlookers gather at the site where forces of Moamer Kadhafi were targeted the day …More Enlarge photo

A Libyan rebel mans a heavy machinegun while waiting to launch an attack to take the town …More Enlarge photo

A US C-17 plane comes in to land at Aviano air base Enlarge photo

Technicians prepare a Tornado jet fighter of the Italian air force at Trapani-Birgi …More Enlarge photo

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