Gaddafi forces mount attacks on rebels in smaller towns

Gaddafi forces mount attacks on rebels in smaller towns

Libyan government forces launched attacks on rebel fighters throughout the country Thursday, one day after the opposition claimed victory in the country's third largest city after weeks of fighting, dpa reported.

Protesters-turned-rebels, who had been fighting against sniper attacks, Grad missiles and cluster munitions inside Misurata, successfully pushed back government troops to the outskirts of the city in the last few weeks.

Wednesday's takeover of the city's airport, which was the final stronghold for Gaddafi's forces around Misurata, will likely embolden protesters, who plan to stage nationwide demonstrations on Friday.

A statement on Thursday by the opposition said that efforts to free the capital, some 200 kilometres west of Misurarta, are being intensified.

However, the opposition al-Manara Media reported violent clashes in the western Nafusa Mountains, with Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi's forces using Grad rockets and mortars on the nearby city of Nalut.

The Berber-inhabited Nafusa Mountain range stretches across two districts and is home to key battleground towns, such as Zintan in the west.

Clashes there come as the opposition Brnieq website said a rebel fighter was killed Wednesday and three others injured in a town in the Nafusa area.

The opposition's Libya al-Youm said that six Grad rockets were dropped in the eastern city of Ajdabiya, a now mostly deserted city just west of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Rebels have been trying unsuccessfully for weeks to advance past Adjabiya and westward onto the oil port town of Brega.

NATO has kept its focus in recent days on the capital, resuming another round of strikes targeting Tripoli overnight Thursday.

Libyan state-news agency JANA said NATO airstrikes damaged the North Korean embassy in Tripoli, but a witness told the German Press Agency dpa that the strike hit a nearby building causing only minor damage to windows.

The government said two civilians were killed in the NATO airstrikes and several injured.

NATO, which said it cannot verify reports of casualties since it is not on the ground in Libya, said its sorties hit ammunition storage sites, four command-and-control facilities and a missile launcher in Tripoli on Wednesday.

The attacks are part of NATO's second-phase plan to target Gaddafi's command centres.

A NATO airstrike in late April killed one of Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi's sons and three grandchildren, in what the Libyan government characterized as an assassination attempt directed at the embattled leader.

Meanwhile, the Libyan consul in Cairo, Farag Saeed al-Oreiby, told al-Arabiya late Wednesday that he had defected to join the opposition in light of the killing of those he called the "revolution martyrs."

It is the most recent in a string of high-level defections since the uprising to oust Gaddafi from power began mid-February.

Despite growing political pressure mounting on Gaddafi to step down, Libyan state television broadcast images of him meeting with tribal leaders at a hotel in Tripoli following days of rumours he may have fled the country.

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