Western air strikes fail to dislodge Gaddafi armour

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Western warplanes hit Libya for a fifth night, but have so far failed to stop Muammar Gaddafi’s tanks shelling rebel-held towns or dislodge his armour from a strategic junction in the east.

Gaddafi’s tanks rolled back into Misratah under the cover of darkness and began shelling the area near the main hospital, residents and rebels said, resuming their attack after their guns were silenced in daylight hours by Western airstrikes.

Government snipers in the city, Libya’s third largest, were undeterred by the bombing raids though and had carried on firing indiscriminately throughout, residents said. A rebel spokesman said the snipers had killed 16 people.

“Government tanks are closing in on Misrata hospital and shelling the area,” said a doctor in Misrata who was briefly reached by phone before the line was cut off.

It was impossible to independently verify the reports.

The US military said it had successfully established a no-fly zone over Libya’s coastal areas and had moved on to attack Gaddafi’s tanks. The allies flew 175 sorties in 24 hours, with the US flying 113 of those, a US commander said.

French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said France had destroyed some 10 Libyan armoured vehicles over three days.

The UN Security Council resolution he said, “stipulates that the coalition has all means available to protect the civilians. What’s threatening the population today is the tanks and artillery,” he said in an interview with Le Figaro published today.

The Libyan government denies its army is conducting any offensive operations and says troops are only defending themselves when they come under attack.

But a resident in Zintan, southwest of Tripoli said Gaddafi forces were bringing up more troops and tanks to bombard the rebel-held town. Rebels forces in the east meanwhile were still pinned down outside the strategic junction at Ajdabiyah after more than three days of trying to recapture it.

Libyan state television said Western planes had struck in Tripoli and in Jafar, southwest of the capital.

“Military and civilian targets were attacked by colonialist crusaders,” the television said.

Libyan government officials have accused Western powers of killing dozens of civilians, but have not shown reporters in the capital any evidence of such deaths. US military officials deny any civilians have been killed in airstrikes.

While the fighting raged, NATO again failed to agree to take over command of the military operations from the United States, chiefly because of objections from Turkey, diplomats said.

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