By Nangayi Guyson – TRIPOLI- Despite the Blasts and anti-aircraft fire of allied air raids against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces, Muammar Gaddafi is still unmoved as tanks continue shelling rebel-held towns.
Residents and rebels said, “Gaddafi’s tanks rolled back into Misrata under the cover of darkness and began shelling the area near the main hospital, resuming their attack after their guns were silenced in daylight hours by Western air strikes”.
Residents in Tripoli also said plumes of black smoke could be seen coming from an area near a military base, although this has not been independently confirmed.
As the battle against Muammar Gaddafi from killing civilians enters a sixth day, British Air Vice Marshal Greg Bagwell said Col Gaddafi’s air force no longer existed as a fighting force. The anti-aircraft gunfire began at around 0430 GMT and there were ensuing explosions, an AFP reporter said.
Witnesses also reported a huge blast Wednesday night at a military base in the Tajura residential neighbourhood some 32 kilometres (20 miles) east of the capital, while anti-aircraft fire was heard as warplanes thundered over Tripoli.
The official JANA news agency said coalition raids on Tajura killed “a large number” of civilians. Tajura was struck three times, the agency said, adding the third raid “targeted rescuers who were trying to remove the dead and wounded from the rubble and the destruction caused by the first two raids.” The claims could not be independently confirmed.
Tajura is home to the most important Libyan military bases and was struck by allied forces on the first day of operations on Saturday, launched against Libya to impose a UN no-fly zone on the country.
As an armada of NATO warships patrolled Libya’s coast to enforce an arms embargo against Gaddafi, fresh efforts to hand the alliance command of the military operations collapsed after days of sometimes acrimonious debate.
A NATO diplomat said the 28-nation alliance would try again on Thursday to reach a decision on whether NATO should take charge of the operation launched on Saturday by Britain, France and the United States.
US officials are also openly speculating whether the continued pressure will force Gaddafi out of power after four decades in control. Although the endgame in Libya remains unclear, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said during a visit to Egypt that mounting pressure on Gaddafi’s regime could encourage his associates or even members of his family to turn on him.
“I think there are a number of possible outcomes here and no one is in a position to predict them, whether there are further major defections within his own ruling circle, whether there are divisions within his family,” he said.
US President Barack Obama has insisted Gaddafi must step down, and US officials hinted that members of Gaddafi’s inner circle were reaching out to find a way out of the crisis.
The US military also said Gaddafi’s ground troops threatening rebel-held cities were now being targeted by coalition air strikes. “We are putting pressure on Gaddafi’s ground forces that are threatening cities,” said Rear Admiral Gerard Hueber, US chief of staff for the Libya mission.
French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said “the air exclusion zone has become a reality.”
“The French side has taken out a dozen armoured vehicles in three days,” he told Le Figaro newspaper in an interview to be published on Thursday. “This is decisive as we have practically not seen any tank concentrations since the strikes.”
Canadian warplanes bombed their first target in Libya overnight, destroying a munitions depot in the rebel-held city of Misrata, Libya’s third city 214 kilometres (132 miles) east of Tripoli, military officials said.
White House spokesman Ben Rhodes confirmed that after forcing Gaddafi’s forces to pull back from eastern Benghazi “we’re similarly focused on trying to protect the people of Misrata as well.”
UN chief Ban Ki-moon again urged all sides in Libya to cease fire as the Security Council prepared to meet on Thursday, a week after clearing the way for action against Gaddafi.
“All those who violate international humanitarian and human rights law will be held fully accountable,” Ban’s spokesman Martin Nesirky said, mentioning attacks on Misrata and Zintan, also in the west.
Coalition forces are acting under UN Security Council Resolution 1973 authorizing “all necessary means” to protect civilians fighting to topple Gaddafi, including enforcing a no-fly zone.
In Paris, an envoy from the rebels’ transitional council said their objective was a “democratic and secular” regime.
Mansour Saif al-Nasr also predicted that Gaddafi would fall quickly, paving the way for society to be rebuilt. “The Libyan people are a moderate people, and the state will not be led by clerics.”