Libya: Heaviest blitz yet brings terror to Tripoli

NATO has launched its most intense bombardment yet against Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi's stronghold of Tripoli with a series of airstrikes causing explosions in the Libyan capital.

The international community has stepped up raids and diplomatic efforts against the regime in a bid to break a virtual stalemate, with the rebels in the east and Col Gaddafi maintaining his hold on most of the west.

The Nato attacks came in rapid succession within a half-hour time span, setting off more than 20 explosions and sending up plumes of acrid-smelling smoke from an area around Col Gaddafi's sprawling Bab al-Aziziya compound in central Tripoli.

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Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said at least three people were killed and dozens wounded in strikes that targeted what he described as buildings used by volunteer units of the Libyan army. Nato said in a statement that a number of precision-guided weapons hit a vehicle storage facility adjacent to Bab al-Aziziya that has been used to supply regime forces "conducting attacks on civilians".

It was not immediately clear if the facility was the only target hit in the barrage. Bab al-Aziziya, which includes a number of military facilities, has been pounded repeatedly by allied air strikes.

At the Tripoli Central Hospital, the bodies of three men in their 20s lay on stretchers, their clothing ripped and their faces partially blown away.

Nurse Ahmad Shara said the men were standing outside their homes when they were killed by shrapnel.

A relative pounded a wall and cried out in despair after he saw the bodies. Some 10 other men and women were wounded.

"We thought it was the day of judgment," said Fathallah Salem, a 45-year-old contractor who rushed his 75-year-old mother to the hospital after she suffered shock.

He said his home trembled, his mother fainted and the youngest of seven children screamed in terror at the sound of the rolling blasts.

Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he hoped a "solution" will soon come to end the fighting in Libya.

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"We are trying to protect the citizens and the population against attacks and to that end, we have taken out a significant amount of Gaddafi's military capacity and we will continue our operation in the high operational tempo," he said.

"And I feel confident that this combination of a high military pressure and real political pressure will eventually lead to the collapse of the regime."

The alliance has been escalating and widening the scope of its strikes over the past weeks, while many countries have built closer ties with the rebel movement that has control of the eastern half of Libya.

Jordanian foreign minister Nasser Judeh announced yesterday that his country has recognised the rebels' national transitional council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people and would soon name a permanent envoy in Benghazi.

Several other countries, including France and Italy, have recognised the rebel administration, while the United States, the European Union and others have established a diplomatic presence in Benghazi.

Jeffrey Feltman, the US assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, said he had delivered an invitation on President Obama's behalf to the rebels to establish a representative office in Washington - a move he called "an important milestone in our relationship with the national transitional council."

But while he said the US considers the council a "legitimate and representative and credible" body, he stopped short of formal recognition due to what he called the temporary nature of the council.