Rebels plan advance on Tripoli, airstrikes continue

Rebels plan advance on Tripoli, airstrikes continue

Libyan rebels were Friday planning their advance on Tripoli as NATO said it would take control of all UN- mandated military operations against Libya, replacing the coalition that has so far carried out airstrikes, dpa reported.

Thousands attended Friday prayers in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, with banners hanging over walls and tents that indicated the battle still ahead. One read: "Misurata, we are coming."

The rebels are trying to take over Misurata, Libya's third-largest city, which they believe would serve as a gateway to the capital, Tripoli. But they say that snipers and plain-clothed informants loyal to leader Moamer Gaddafi remained a threat.

Defying Gaddafi's forces, the rebels have continued their military training at a camp, called the February 17 Camp, in Benghazi that was set up by the opposition National Council. Young Libyans have come here from various cities to learn how to use weapons.

"We want to sacrifice all we have for Libya. But I have nothing, except my faith. This is why I came here to help my fellow Libyans," a young man told broadcaster Al Arabiya broadcaster from the camp.

Loud explosions were heard in parts of southern Tripoli early Friday, and a Libyan military spokesman later announced that several civilian and military sites were bombed.

Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim warned late Thursday against airstrikes targeting the building that houses state television and radio. He called on the United Nations Security Council to intervene to stop the attacks on civilian institutions.

Gaddafi's forces continue to battle for control, but his brigades have been severely weakened, with Britain saying earlier this week that his air force no longer existed as a fighting force.

A French fighter jet destroyed an artillery battery near Ajdabiya city Thursday night, French Army Chief of Staff Admiral Edouard Guillaud told public radio.

He also said the old Libyan air force plane destroyed by French planes on Thursday in Misurata was to be used to bombard the city. The single-engine aircraft was destroyed by a missile just after landing at an air base after a flight of less than 10 minutes, he said.

Overnight, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance had "taken on the responsibility for the no-fly zone, while the coalition still continues its activities."

While military command would strictly remain within NATO, spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said an international conference in London on Tuesday would set "the wide political guidance" for action against Libya.

Since Saturday a coalition directed by the United States and aided by a number of countries, including Britain and France, has taken out both Libyan air defences and Libyan ground forces in order to prevent attacks on civilians.

Guillaud, the French army chief of staff, said that he thought the allied operations would last "weeks."

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