NATO bombed Muammar Gaddafi’s compound today, hours after the Libyan leader ended doubt about his fate by making his first television appearance since another air strike killed his son nearly two weeks ago.
The leader of the rebels seeking to end Gaddafi’s 41-year rule visited London to drum up aid for his movement. The White House said a senior rebel delegation would be received for the first time in Washington on Friday.
Rebels fighting against Gaddafi for almost three months are in control of the east of the country, while Gaddafi’s forces control the capital Tripoli and nearly all of the west.
NATO-led forces are bombing Libya under a U.N. resolution authorizing them to protect civilians. The United States, Britain and France say they will not stop their air campaign until Gaddafi leaves power.
They have hit targets within Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziyah compound several times during the conflict, but deny they are targeting the leader himself.
Libyan officials showed reporters around the scene of Thursday’s overnight air strike on the compound. They said three people had been killed and 25 wounded.
The corner of a two-storey building was blown away, leaving fragments of concrete on the street below. Deep craters were left in two other locations around the compound.
Government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said the strikes hit near a spot where dozens of Libyans come every night, some with families, to shout slogans in support of Gaddafi.
He denied the compound contained any military facilities, and pointed to a small park near one of the craters where children were playing on a carousel.
“The NATO alliance is completely bereft of morality,” Ibrahim said. “No one has the right to say to the people of Libya move away from the cities so we can bombard you.”
An official at NATO headquarters said the target it hit was a large command and control bunker complex.
“These locations were known to be command and control facilities engaged in coordinating attacks against civilian populations in Libya,” said the official.
State television reported that the North Korean embassy in Tripoli had also suffered major damage in the overnight NATO strikes, but the NATO official denied it had been attacked.
Earlier, Gaddafi had drawn a line under nearly two weeks of speculation over his fate when Libyan television showed him meeting officials in a Tripoli hotel.
The Libyan leader had not been seen in public since an April 30 strike killed his youngest son and three grandchildren.
He made his appearance on Wednesday in his trademark brown robe and dark sunglasses, greeting a group of tribal leaders.
“You will be victorious,” an old man told Gaddafi.
Gaddafi is still holding onto power despite weeks of NATO strikes, defying predictions from some Western governments that his administration would implode under the pressure.
The rebel leadership based in the eastern city of Benghazi — having seen attempts to advance west on the capital bogged down in the desert — is now focusing on drumming up more international support.
Mustafa Abdel Jalil, chairman of the Libyan National Transitional Council, met British Prime Minister David Cameron in London and received a pledge of help.
He said Western governments should go beyond offering equipment such as satellite phones and body armor and start providing guns. “We need some lethal weapons,” he said.
The White House said it would host a Libyan rebel delegation on Friday for the first time. The invitation, to meet senior administration officials, will help rebel efforts to build their international credibility.
U.S. lawmakers are also working on legislation which would allow frozen Gaddafi assets to be given to the rebels. A rebel official said the law could net them $180 million.
The rebel administration’s most urgent need is to resume the production of crude oil, stopped by raids by pro-Gaddafi forces on rebel-controlled oil fields in the south-east of Libya.
A senior official in Benghazi said he could not say when the fields would start pumping again. “It’s unsafe. Our oil fields have to be protected,” Abdullah Shamia told Reuters.
REBEL GAIN IN MISRATA
Thousands of people have been killed since the revolt broke out against Gaddafi’s rule in late February.\
Libyan officials deny killing civilians, saying instead they are fighting criminal armed gangs and al Qaeda militants. They say the NATO air strikes are an act of colonial aggression.
Rebels in the city of Misrata, their only major stronghold in the west of Libya, hailed an important victory on Wednesday, saying they had seized the city airport from pro-Gaddafi forces, along with large quantities of weapons and munitions. No independent verification of the rebels’ account was available.
Taking the airport is a psychological boost for rebels who have grimly defended the besieged city for weeks, but the city is still encircled by pro-Gaddafi forces and cut off from other rebel holdouts by empty desert. Aid agencies said it was too early to think about using the airport to deliver supplies.
On another front in the conflict, anti-Gaddafi fighters are holding off attempts by loyalists to take their mountain-top positions in a barren region south-west of Tripoli.
A Reuters reporter in the town of Zintan said he heard planes flying overhead, and then an explosion to the south. That is the area where NATO aircraft have been targeting government weapons depots in the past few days.