Libya denounced a NATO airstrike on Muammar Qaddafi’s compound as an assassination attempt, as Italy announced it will join in airstrikes on pro-regime forces that threaten civilians.
The NATO attack destroyed part of Qaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound in the capital Tripoli. NATO said in an e-mailed statement that it hit a “communications headquarters” in Tripoli, without giving details. A local security official said four people were slightly hurt, The Associated Press reported.
Moussa Ibrahim, a spokesman for the Libyan government, said that Qaddafi remains “healthy and well” after an “attempt to assassinate” him. Libyan state television later showed Qaddafi receiving local leaders while sitting in a tent with a television displaying the day’s date.
“He is not hiding, he is leading the battle,” Ibrahim said at a press conference at the bombing site that was broadcast on state television. “He is in high spirits.”
Italy’s warplanes will join those from the U.K., France and several other nations. It had previously declined to participate because of its history as Libya’s colonial ruler.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told U.S. President Barack Obama about the decision in a phone call yesterday. Italy “decided to respond positively to a request from NATO,” the Italian government said in an e-mailed statement.
“The two leaders agreed that additional pressure is necessary to strengthen the civilian protection mission, and the president emphasized that the best way to ensure the safety of the Libyan people is for Qaddafi to leave power,” the White House said in a statement.
The conflict in Libya, which has Africa’s largest oil reserves, has pushed crude prices to the highest since September 2008. Crude oil futures for June delivery settled at $112.28 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, reversing an early drop of 1.1 percent and essentially unchanged from the April 22 settlement price. Oil has gained more than 30 percent since the war began in mid-February.
Libya’s production, which averaged 1.6 million barrels a day last year, shrank to 390,000 barrels a day in March, according to a Bloomberg News survey of producers. Production at the Messla and Sarir oil fields, in the rebel-controlled east, has been halted due to damage from the fighting, rebel officials said at a press conference Sunday in Benghazi, according to AP.
After more than two months of fighting between Qaddafi’s forces and rebels seeking to end his 42-year rule, Libya has ground to a military impasse, with the government controlling much of the west and the insurgents holding the east.
The strike in Qaddafi’s compound followed a weekend of intense shelling by his forces on Misrata, the biggest rebel-held city in the west, in which the AP said 32 people were killed and dozens wounded. Qaddafi’s troops resumed shelling the city yesterday after announcing a pullout over the weekend, AP reported.
“We will keep up the pressure until all attacks against civilians have stopped, Qaddafi’s forces have withdrawn to bases and full and unimpeded humanitarian access has been ensured,” NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said in a statement yesterday from the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.
‘Traitors, Agents and Spies’
Qaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam said that NATO is fighting a “losing battle” in Libya because it is “backed by traitors, agents and spies,” according to the state-run JANA news agency. Targeting Qaddafi’s office was “an act of cowardice done at night that can do nothing more than terrify children, and it’s impossible that it would frighten us or make us surrender,” he said.
The two buildings hit appeared to hold a library, offices and reception hall for visiting officials, the AP reported. Earlier, a government official had said three people were killed and 15 seriously injured, AP said.
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, called for the U.S. and its allies to go after Qaddafi to resolve “what looks like a stalemate.”
“My recommendation to NATO and the administration is to cut the head of the snake off, go to Tripoli, start bombing Qaddafi’s inner circle, their compounds, their military headquarters,” he said April 24 on CNN’s “State of the Union” show.
The NATO-led mission began last month after a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing military action to protect civilians and impose an arms embargo. NATO said it carried out 62 “strike sorties” April 24, with other targets including ammunition facilities around Tripoli and Misrata.
Italy has supported NATO operations, including the enforcement of the no-fly zone and arms embargo, and NATO warplanes have been flying from bases in Italy.
Libya’s Transitional National Council, the interim authority set up by the rebels, has called for more international assistance. The council is getting 50 million dinars ($181 million) from Kuwait, its leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil, said April 24 during a visit to the Persian Gulf state.
The conflict is spurring an exodus into neighboring Tunisia and Egypt. About 5,000 people a day flee across Libya’s borders, said Reuben Brigety, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of State for population, refugees, and migration. The displacement is “substantial and slightly unusual,” because most people leaving Libya are foreign nationals, Brigety said at a press briefing at a State Department yesterday.
So far, 117,000 people have been evacuated by air from the region, Brigety said. Increasing numbers of Libyans also have started fleeing the country in the south from the western mountains, he said.
The U.S. has committed $47 million to humanitarian aid, Brigety said. The money is distributed to the International Organization for Migration, the World Food Program, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and non-governmental agencies, some of which are on the ground in Libya, he said.