West strikes deep in Libya, Misrata still besieged

TRIPOLI, (Reuters) – Western warplanes hit military  targets deep inside Libya today but failed to prevent  tanks reentering the western town of Misrata overnight and  besieging its main hospital.
Air strikes destroyed government tanks on the outskirts of   rebel-held Misrata, but other tanks inside the city were not  hit, a resident said, underling the difficulty of the U.N.  backed military mission to protect Libyans from Muammar Gaddafi.
Gaddafi’s tanks rolled back into Misrata under the cover of  darkness and shelled the area near the hospital, which was also  under fire from government snipers, residents and rebels said.
“The situation is very serious,” a doctor in the western  town said by telephone before the line was cut off.
A resident called Abdelbasset said 6,000 workers and family  members from Egypt and other African countries were stuck in the  port, under the eye of two Libyan warships which moved in on  Wednesday. “They haven’t attacked but if they do, the thousands  of workers will be the first victims,” he said.
The continued fighting has strained an international  coalition set up to try to stop Gaddafi’s assault on Libyans  seeking an end to his rule, with a growing list of countries  wary of attacks on ground troops that could kill civilians.
NATO members are still trying to resolve differences over  the command and aims of the international operation in Libya.
Western forces, having taken out Libyan air defences, moved  deeper into Libya and on to other strategic infrastructure.
France said it had hit an air base in central Libya early today, the fifth night of air strikes by Western powers on  Gaddafi’s military and al Arabiya television said planes struck  Sabha, a Gaddafi stronghold in southern Libya, today.
A Libyan official said fuel storage tanks and a  telecommunications tower in Tripoli were among places hit by  what state television called “colonialist crusaders”. A target  in the Tajoura district which a resident said was a military  area was also hit twice on Thursday.
Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said strikes had  hit military and civilian compounds in the central Jufrah region  and other targets in Tripoli, Misrata and south of Benghazi in  the east, home to a emerging alternative government.
Libyan officials took Reuters journalists to a Tripoli  hospital to see 18 male corpses, some charred beyond  recognition, saying they were military personnel and civilians  killed by Western bombing overnight.
It was the first time foreign reporters had been shown  alleged victims of the airstrikes and it was not possible to  verify how many were civilians. Libya says dozens have been  killed; Western forces deny any have been killed in the strikes.
The United States says it has successfully established a  no-fly zone over the Libyan coast, begun attacking tanks and now  wants to hand leadership of the mission to NATO.
“I think this is going to be a matter of days in which you  see a movement toward the transition with regard to command and  control,” a top aide to President Barack Obama told reporters.
But NATO’s 28 members have been unable to agree how to  assume command of an operation whose final objectives remain  unclear and face a fourth day of wrangling today with the  main objections from Muslim member Turkey.
Seeking to allay fears of a protracted and bloody conflict,  France said it could take days or weeks to destroy Gaddafi’s  military, but would not need months.
“You can’t expect us to achieve our objective in just five  days,” Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told reporters.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague called for NATO to  take over as soon as possible.

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