Prime Minister Stephen Harper has ruled out sending more aircraft to participate in the NATO mission over Libya, saying any such commitment requires consultation in Parliament.

His comment Friday came as NATO failed for a second day to find new ground-attack aircraft for the fight against Moammar Gadhafi's forces in Libya, but Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen expects the additional planes soon.

Harper, speaking Friday on the campaign trail, said Canada is making a "significant contribution" and believes Gadhafi's leadership must "end" in order to fully protect the civilian population.

But Harper reiterated his government has been clear that it will not put Canadian soldiers on the ground in Libya.


Aisha Gadhafi addresses a cheering crowd from her father's compound in Tripoli. (Reuters)

Defiant daughter 

From her father's compound in Tripoli, struck by U.S. bombs exactly 25 years ago, Moammar Gadhafi's daughter, Aisha, sent a defiant message early Friday: Libya was not defeated by airstrikes then, and won't be defeated now, she told a cheering crowd.

She pumped her right fist as she led the audience in late-night chants from the second-floor balcony of the badly damaged Bab Aziziyah compound, targeted by U.S. warplanes in 1986. "Leave our skies with your bombs," she said, referring to NATO airstrikes that struck Tripoli just hours earlier.

In the 1980s, Moammar Gadhafi was seen as a sponsor of militant groups, and Libya's secret service was held responsible for the April 5, 1986, bombing of a Berlin disco that killed two U.S. servicemen. Ten days later, U.S. warplanes struck targets in Benghazi and Tripoli, including Gadhafi's Bab Aziziyah compound. Dozens were killed in the strikes.

Gadhafi never repaired Bab Aziziyah, instead turning it into a museum.

Source: The Associated Press

"In terms of any requests for additional participation, we will not make those kind of commitments during an election campaign. To make any kind of additional commitment would require the Parliament of Canada to be sitting and to be discussing these matters," he told reporters in Richmond Hill, Ont.

On the ground Friday, government forces unleashed heavy shelling on Misrata, pushing troops and tanks into the rebel-held city. A helicopter circled overhead for several hours, apparently spotting artillery targets in Libya's third largest city, in defiance of the NATO-enforced no-fly zone. Forces bombarded the city with fire from tanks, artillery and rockets.

Gadhafi forces are firing cluster bombs and ground-to-ground rockets into residential neighbourhoods in Misrata, according to witnesses cited in a New York Times report. The weapons cannot be targeted precisely and put civilians at grave risk.

It was the heaviest assault in the 50-day-old siege of Misrata.

On Friday, a ship carrying hundreds of Libyans and migrant workers from Misrata arrived at Benghazi.

One evacuee, a migrant worker from Syria, said that the situation was "painful."

"No water, no electricity. Shelling everywhere," the man, Feris Al Suri, said.

Samer Moshsen, a doctor from Misrata, said that there were "many injuries. Deaths, wounded."

Approximately 8,300 foreign labourers are stranded near Misrata's port without shelter or adequate food and water, according to the International Organization of Migration.

Rights groups have warned that the situation in Misrata, Libya's third-largest city, is dire after 50 days of siege by Gadhafi's troops.


An aid worker carries a newborn, as nearly 1,200 migrant workers from Misrata arrive in Benghazi by boat, many suffering from dehydration and needing medical attention. ((Ben Curtis/Associated Press))

Hospitals are unable to cope with growing numbers of casualties, including many shrapnel injuries.

Meanwhile, NATO warplanes struck Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte in the east, Libyan TV said. Explosions were also heard from what appeared to be NATO strikes against Gadhafi's forces near the coastal town of Brega.

In Tripoli, there were reports of heightened security measures in an apparent attempt to prevent anti-government protests.

NATO's top military commander, U.S. navy Admiral James Stavridis, has said there is a growing need for precision attack aircraft to avoid civilian casualties as Gadhafi's forces camouflage themselves and hide in populated areas to avoid Western airstrikes.

American officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the details, said the commander is looking for about eight to 10 additional planes.

The alliance is struggling to overcome differences over the Libya mission, with Britain and France seeking more strikes by other NATO nations, particularly the U.S.

The U.S. says it sees no need to change what it calls a supporting role in the campaign — even though it has still been flying a third of the missions — and many other NATO nations have rules preventing them from striking Gadhafi's forces except in self-defence.

Speaking Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama rejected any increased role for the U.S. "I'm actually very impressed with the performance of NATO so far," he said.  

Obama described the conflict as a stalemate on the ground, but said Gadhafi is being "squeezed."

"He's running out of money. He is running out of supplies," Obama said. "The noose is tightening, and he is becoming more and more isolated. And my expectation is, is that if we continue to apply that pressure and continue to protect civilians, which NATO is doing very capably, then I think over the long term, Gadhafi will go and we will be successful."

Fogh Rasmussen said Friday that the Berlin meetings had ended with no specific pledges from the allies for the additional planes, but he received "indications that nations will deliver what is needed."

"I'm hopeful that we will get the necessary assets in the very near future," he said.

NATO airstrikes began three weeks ago, aimed at protecting Libyan civilians from attacks by forces loyal to Gadhafi.

Also Friday, a letter stating there can be no peace in Libya as long as Gadhafi stays in power was published by leaders of the United States, Britain and France.

The letter appeared in three major newspapers as the battle for control of key Libyan cities grinds on with little progress seen by either the opposition rebels or the forces loyal to the dictator.

CBC reporter Derek Stoffel said from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi that the letter is being regarded as good news. Libyans he has spoken to over the last several days want to see NATO move from simply protecting civilians to helping remove Gadhafi from power.

About 10,000 people rallied after Friday prayers in Benghazi. They thanked France for its part in the NATO strikes, asked the Americans to do more, and said they stand in solidarity with the people of Tripoli and Misrata. Tripoli is the capital and a government stronghold, while Misrata has been fiercely fought over by both sides.

CBC's Neil Macdonald, also in Libya, tweeted Friday, "The general message people have here for the anti-war left in Canada and the U.S.: You have another solution? Would you rather we die?"

The leaders' letter — published in the International Herald Tribune, the Times of London and France's Le Figaro — attempts to show a united front even as NATO members such as Germany openly criticize the mission.

"Our duty and our mandate under UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that," U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy say in the letter. "It is not to remove Gadhafi by force. But it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Gadhafi in power."   

Alliance members agreed Thursday that Gadhafi must leave power, but insisted the military mission remain focused on its declared goals of enforcing an arms embargo, protecting civilians and forcing the withdrawal of the dictator's forces from cities they have entered.

With files from The Associated Press