Libya: Area near Gadhafi compound struck in raid

June 16, 2011 - 5:59 AM
Mideast Libya

Rebel fighters fire their machine guns towards pro-Moammar Gadhafi forces at the front line of Dafniya, west of Misrata, Libya, Wednesday , June 15, 2011. In recent days rebel forces have advanced along the Mediterranean coast toward Zlitan, but say they have been instructed by NATO to withdraw _ ahead of expected bombing runs _ to old front lines in Dafniya, 16 miles (25 kilometers) west of Misrata. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Hours after NATO airstrikes pounded the area near Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's compound again before dawn Thursday, the Russian government reported that it's Libya envoy held talks with officials in Tripoli on ending the civil war.

The ITAR-Tass news agency said Mikhail Margelov met Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi and planned a session with Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi.

Last week, Margelov visited the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi and said that Gadhafi has lost his legitimacy. However, Margelov also said NATO airstrikes are not a solution to Libya's violent stalemate.

The latest NATO strike on Gadhafi's compound rattled windows across the heart of the capital, producing thunderous concussions and smoke billowing into the air.

It was not clear what was hit, and there was no word on casualties. Government officials did not immediately comment on the strike. NATO warplanes have repeatedly targeted the area in and around the Bab al-Aziziya compound.

NATO launched its air campaign nearly three months ago under a United Nations resolution to protect civilians. What started as a peaceful uprising inside the country against Gadhafi and his more than four-decade rule has become a civil war.

Poorly equipped and trained rebel fighters have taken control of the eastern third of Libya and pockets of the west. The fighting had reached a stalemate until last week when NATO launched the heaviest bombardment of Gadhafi forces since the alliance took control of the skies over Libya.

NATO has been pounding Gadhafi's military and government positions with increasing vigor and the rebels are again on the move.

Tunisian army official Mokhtar Ben Nasr said the number of Libyans fleeing has mounted in recent days, with 6,330 Libyan refugees crossing into Tunisia earlier this week. Dozens of Libyan soldiers also have defected to Tunisia by boat, the state news agency there reported Wednesday.

Britain's prime minister has said that time is running out for Gadhafi's forces, even as some senior military leaders within NATO have voiced concerns that the mission is straining the alliance's resources.

"Time is on our side," British Prime Minister David Cameron told lawmakers Wednesday. "We have got NATO, we've got the United Nations, we've got the Arab League, we have right on our side. The pressure is building militarily, diplomatically, politically, and time is running out for Gadhafi."

In Washington, the White House insisted Wednesday that President Barack Obama has the authority to continue U.S. military action in Libya even without authorization from lawmakers in Congress.

Its 32-page report to Congress argues that because the U.S. has a limited, supporting role in the NATO-led bombing campaign in Libya and American forces are not engaged in sustained fighting, the president is within his constitutional rights to direct the mission on his own.

But the report appeared to do little to quell congressional criticism. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the White House was using "creative arguments" that raised additional questions.

In an interview published Thursday by Italy's Corriere della Sera, Gadhafi's son Saif al-Islam dismissed demands for his father's exile from Libya but said elections under International supervision could offer a way out. A vote could be organized within 3 months, he said.

He said Gadhafi would step aside if he lost, which the son said was unlikely. He acknowledged, however, that "my father's regime as it developed since 1969 is dead." The son said he envisions a federal state with strong local autonomy and a weak central government in Tripoli.

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Associated Press writer Julie Pace in Washington contributed to this report.