TRIPOLI – NATO air raids targeted the military intelligence headquarters of Moamer Kadhafi’s battered regime on Monday, ahead of a visit to Libya by an envoy from Russia which has raised concerns about the scope of the military campaign.
Royal Air Force Tornado and Typhoon warplanes hit the military intelligence HQ in Tripoli early on Monday, Major General Nick Pope, spokesman for the Chief of Defence Staff, said in London.
“The strike complemented other allied air missions conducted against other key regime targets in Tripoli during the course of last night,” he said in a statement.
The Western military alliance said that its aircraft “delivered precision-guided weapons as part of a campaign which continues to degrade Kadhafi’s ability to commit crimes on his own people.”
A Libyan information ministry official said that NATO-led warplanes also hit offices of the state broadcaster but the alliance denied the charge.
“We did not target or hit the Libyan broadcast facilities,” Wing Commander Mike Bracken, the NATO mission spokesman, told AFP. “What we did target was the military intelligence headquarters in downtown Tripoli.”
NATO-led warplanes were in the air over the Libyan capital again on Monday evening. An AFP correspondent heard two loud explosions in the city centre at around 6:50 pm (1650 GMT).
State television said that a telecommunications centre was hit, cutting telephone lines in several areas.
An explosion also hit the town of Tajoura, east of Tripoli, residents said.
Tripoli will not be on the itinerary of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s envoy Mikhail Margelov, who will instead meet rebel leaders in their Benghazi stronghold on Tuesday, an official said in Moscow.
Russia has voiced concerns that the NATO operation is sliding towards a land campaign.
Margelov, Medvedev’s Africa envoy, told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency he would meet rebel leaders including Mustafa Abdul Jalil, head of the National Transitional Council that controls eastern Libya.
Medvedev announced at the G8 summit last month he would be sending the envoy to Libya, as Moscow seeks to present itself as a potential mediator and expresses growing alarm over the continued conflict.
But the fact that Margelov will not visit Tripoli will limit Moscow’s scope in attempts to bring about a truce between the two sides.
“A drawing out of the armed conflict will worsen the humanitarian situation not only in Libya but also in neighbouring states that are taking on Libyan refugees,” Margelov told RIA.
“This all threatens a dangerous destabilisation of the situation in the region.”
Moscow has expressed alarm as NATO’s air campaign to enforce a UN-mandated no-fly zone to protect civilians entered a new phase with the deployment of British and French attack helicopters over the weekend.
“(NATO is) using attack helicopters on land targets, which is in my view the last but one step before the land operation,” Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Sunday defended the use of the helicopters and ruled out putting forces on the ground, saying NATO would stick to the terms of UN Resolution 1973 passed in March to protect civilians.
“This is not mission creep, changing the nature of the mission, this is intensifying what we are doing in order to make this mission a success,” he said, after stressing that no deadlines would be set on the mission.
Rebel leader Jalil has praised the deployment of attack helicopters by Britain and France, saying: “We welcome any action that could precipitate the end of Kadhafi’s regime.”
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Monday he will press allies to step up their contributions in the Libya air war to ensure the alliance can sustain its mission over a new 90-day mandate.
“I will request a broad support for our operation in Libya, if possible increased contributions, if possible more flexible use of the assets provided for our operation,” he said.
The Libyan regime, meanwhile, insisted on its credibility after foreign journalists raised doubts over the case of a baby girl in hospital who officials said had been wounded in a NATO air strike.
Correspondents were taken to a Tripoli hospital on Sunday to see casualties from NATO air strikes and shown the child who was unconscious and hooked up to breathing equipment.
But a member of the hospital staff slipped a piece of paper into the pocket of one journalist, with a note in English: “This is a case of road traffic accident. This is the truth.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaaim insisted: “The government is credible.”