NATO airstrikes target Libya's capital

Four explosions in quick succession were heard in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, followed by the sound of speeding ambulances.

UN chief calls for immediate ceasefire in Libya

In this photo taken on a government organized tour, a Libyan soldier and a civilian attempt to direct traffic following an airstrike in Tripoli, Libya, early Tuesday. (Darko Bandic/Associated Press)

A series of NATO strikes are targeting the Libyan capital.

Four explosions in quick succession were heard early Thursday, preceded by the sound of loud whooshing — normally associated with cruise missiles.

After the strikes, the sound of speeding ambulances was heard by reporters staying in a Tripoli hotel.

It wasn't immediately clear what the strikes hit. Reporters are not allowed to leave their hotels without government minders.

The strikes came hours after Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi made his first TV appearance since a NATO strike on his sprawling compound on April 30, in an attempt to quash rumors that he had been hit by the air strikes.

NATO strikes earlier this week hit an intelligence building and another structure used by parliamentarians.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon called for "an immediate, verifiable ceasefire" in Libya on Wednesday and demanded unimpeded access for humanitarian workers there.

The secretary-general said in Geneva he spoke with Libya's prime minister by phone late Tuesday to urge a ceasefire and demand access for  UN staff and an end to Moammar Gadhafi's government forces from attacking civilians.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses a news conference at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva Wednesday. He said he had spoken to Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi on Tuesday. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)
Ban said the prime minister, al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, agreed to receive a special  UN envoy who would now travel to Tripoli to undertake "negotiations for a peaceful resolution of the conflict and unimpeded access for humanitarian workers."

Ban pronounced the uprisings across North Africa and the Arab world a rare but fragile opportunity to advance democracy and human rights. He said the movements must be "nurtured and carefully handled by the people who created it."

Ban called on all nations' patrol ships off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea to help prevent more tragedies like the apparent deaths of all 600 African migrants aboard an overcrowded ship to Europe that broke apart within sight of the Libyan capital.

"I'm disturbed by accounts of people fleeing the fighting, losing their lives at sea," Ban said. "I ask patrol vessels in the Mediterranean not to wait for distress signals to offer help. Any boat leaving Libya should be considered a boat in need of assistance and protection."

Ban gives thumbs up to Navy SEAL raid

Ban said he approved of President Barack Obama's decision to send Navy SEAL commandos into Pakistan to kill al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

"This operation was conducted under extremely difficult, extremely dangerous situations, and that's why I expressed my relief that justice was done to this mastermind of crimes," Ban said.

Asked whether he believes NATO coalition forces are exceeding their UN authorization or should step up their attacks to oust Gadhafi, Ban said those forces have a mandate to take necessary military action to protect civilians.

Rebels in the port city of Misrata said Wednesday they had captured the local airport and pushed Moammar Gadhafi's forces ever further from the city's western outskirts.

The reported advances were the latest in a recent flurry of accounts of rebel victories, coinciding with intensified NATO airstrikes on Gadhafi's forces in several areas of Libya. In all, NATO said Wednesday, the alliance has carried out more than 2,400 airstrikes since March 31 as part of the effort to assist the rebels and pressure Gadhafi to end his 42-year authoritarian rule.

According to the Libyan state news agency, JANA, one of latest sites hit by NATO was the North Korean Embassy in the capital, Tripoli. JANA said the mission was badly damaged by fragments of a NATO missile fired Monday.

Reports difficult to confirm

Even though some of the recent reports of ground combat are difficult to confirm, they seem to represent a major boost for the rebels' military prospects after weeks of stalemate on several fronts.

According to a rebel who identified himself as Abdel Salam, rebels were in total control of the airport in Misrata's southern outskirts after two days of fighting. He said five rebels were killed and 105 injured.

He said rebels are also pushing west from Misrata, toward the nearby city of Zlitan, hoping to then advance farther toward Tripoli.

"This is a major victory," Abdel Salam said. "The Gadhafi forces have been suffering lack of supplies ... Their morale was very low after being defeated several times and pushed back."

The rebels control most of eastern Libya, but Misrata — about  200 kilometres southeast of Tripoli — is the only rebel stronghold in the west. Local doctors say more than 1,000 of its residents have been killed in the fighting and shelling during the siege by Gadhafi's forces.

In Tripoli, a government spokesman denied the Misrata rebels' claims of success.

"This is nonsense," said Moussa Ibrahim. "We control the airport and we also control the sea port."

Ibrahim did acknowledge that the war was creating severe shortages of many commodities in Tripoli.

"The NATO airstrikes and the sea embargo ... are badly influencing the lives of daily Libyans," he said. "We have some shortages in fuel, food and medicine. It makes it difficult to go to schools, hospitals and factories."