Al Jazeera & Agence France-Presse – 2011-06-06 02:35:04
NATO Air Raids Shake Libyan Capital
Tripoli comes under attack as UK’s Hague, visiting Benghazi, rules out setting a deadline for the alliance’s mission
Al Jazeera & Agence France-Presse
TRIPOLI (June 5, 2011) — Six powerful explosions have been heard in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, as warplanes flew over the city. A powerful but distant blast was felt in the centre of the city at around 9:00pm (1900 GMT) on Sunday, followed by stronger explosions a few minutes later, an AFP correspondent said, unable to immediately determine the targets. NATO fighter jets earlier launched intensive air raids on the capital and its eastern suburbs.
A Libyan government official, speaking to the Associated Press news agency on condition of anonymity, said British jets had hit a military barracks in Tripoli, but there were no casualties. For months, Muammar Gaddafi’s forces have been battling rebels who are seeking to end his four-decade rule. Despite mounting international pressure, including NATO air attacks against him, the Libyan leader refuses to step down.
The Tripoli explosions came as William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said there is no deadline for NATO’s Libya operation, and Russia voiced concerns that the use of helicopters showed NATO was sliding towards a land campaign. “We’re not going to set a deadline. You’re asking about Christmas and who knows, it could be days or weeks or months, [but] it is worth doing,” Hague told an interviewer on BBC television on Sunday.
Hague, who held talks with Libyan rebel leaders in their stronghold Benghazi on Saturday, ruled out putting ground forces, saying NATO would stick to the terms of a UN Security Council resolution passed in March to protect civilians.
“We will continue in that way, intensifiying what we’re doing — the Apache helicopters are an example of that — but that’s different from mission creep,” he said. “This is not mission creep, changing the nature of the mission, this is intensifiying what we are doing in order to make this mission a success.”
Hague’s trip came just hours after British Apache helicopters attacked forces loyal to Gaddafi. Hague held talks in Benghazi with the head of the rebel Interim National Council, Mustafa al-Jalil. He also toured the city’s landmark seafront as well as a medical centre treating war wounded.
“We’re encouraging the National Transitional Council to put more flesh on their proposed transition — to lay out in more detail this coming week what would happen on the day that Gaddafi went — who would be running what, how would a new government be formed in Tripoli?” Hague told the BBC.
‘For as Long as It Takes’
Hague earlier said Britain would support demining efforts in Misurata, the main rebel-held city in western Libya, and deliver “more equipment, uniforms, bullet-proof jackets” to rebel fighters. “We have no combat troops in Libya,” he said. But Britain, he said, would stand with the Libyan people “for as long as it takes”.
“We could not, and did not, turn a blind eye when Gaddafi turned his forces against innocent civilians,” Hague said. “For as long as Gaddafi continues to abuse his people, we will continue and intensify our efforts to stop him.”
Earlier, Russia, which is calling for a negotiated solution to the Libyan conflict, has expressed alarm over the use of helicopters by NATO, with Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, saying that the decision was “deplorable”.
“We consider that what is going on is either consciously or unconsciously sliding towards a land operation,” he said on Saturday. NATO’s stepped-up offensive comes as Libyan opposition fighters make a major advance towards Tripoli, after claiming victory in western Libyan towns against forces loyal to Gaddafi.
An opposition military leader said on Friday that local fighters won control of four towns in the Nafusa mountain range, where government forces had besieged and randomly shelled rebel-held areas for months. Opposition fighters have also pushed government troops from Shakshuk and Qasr al-Haj, two towns near a key road that runs along the mountain range’s northern edge, Ibrahim, the rebel officer, said.
After a siege by pro-Gaddafi forces, Misurata is now in opposition hands. Opposition fighters there have now pushed halfway to the town of Zlitan, on the way to Tripoli, after taking control of Zintan. At one stage, their advance came to within 60km of Sirte, but the government troops held their line and repelled the attack.
Gaddafi’s government has been slowly crumbling from within. A significant number of army officers and several cabinet ministers have defected, and most have expressed support for the opposition.
NATO attacks on the Libyan military and government infrastructure have been occurring daily since March 31 in an operation that has just been extended for another 90 days. The 18-country mission, led by the US, UK and France, has several core goals: enforcement of a no-fly zone, maintenance of an arms embargo, protection of civilians and facilitation of humanitarian assistance.
US Drone Strikes Kill Many in Pakistan
(June 6, 2011) — Three US missile strikes have killed at least 18 people in Pakistan’s tribal areas along the Afghan border, local security officials have said. The strikes on Monday came a day after at least 24 people were killed in an explosion in the northwestern town of Nowshera and another bombing at a bus stop near Peshawar. The missile strikes took place near Wana, the main town in the South Waziristan tribal region, early on Monday morning.
Local intelligence officials confirmed the strikes. Al Jazeera correspondent Kamal Hyder, reporting from Islamabad, said that one strike targeted a compound, while another hit a madrassah (religious school).
The identities of those killed in the strikes were not immediately known. Hyder said there were concerns that civilians could be among the dead. The latest strikes come just three days after a suspected US drone strike killed Ilyas Kashmiri, a senior al-Qaeda commander, according to local officials.
On Sunday, a suicide bomber attacked a bakery in northwest Pakistan, killing 18 people and wounding 40 others, local police said.
Liaquat Ali Khan, a police official, said the attack occurred late in the evening in a neighborhood inhabited by military personnel in the town of Nowshera. At least two soldiers were among the dead. It was the second bomb blast of the day. An earlier attack killed six people at a bus stop in the Matani area near the northwestern city of Peshawar.
Rescue workers and police combed the site strewn with debris from the explosion while the injured were taken to hospitals for treatment. Local TV footage showed the twisted truck and other damaged vehicles scattered at the scene, while rescue workers rushed away the wounded.
Malik Asif, a witness, said: “I was about at a distance of 30 yards when this blast occurred. I rushed here and I saw a woman lying here, and a man was lying on the other side. I picked them up,” he said.
“There was smoke everywhere. I saw many other wounded lying there. Two of them died. They were confirmed dead. The other two, who were taken to hospital were with blown up body parts, they would have also died.”
The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, Al Jazeera’s Hyder reported. The group has carried out a string of attacks in Pakistan since Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader, was killed in the Pakistani city of Abbotabad on May 2.
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