NATO bombs rock Tripoli, Libya rebels advance

A NATO bombing blitz rocked Tripoli this morning while rebels in besieged Misrata said they are pushing back Muammar Gaddafi’s forces and the UN warned Libya is being paralysed by widespread shortages.

Jets screamed in low over the Libyan capital in the early hours of the morning, carrying out an unusually heavy bombardment over roughly three hours.

Late last night, witnesses reported two explosions in the capital as jets flew overhead, adding that smoke was rising from a site near the offices of Libyan television and state news agency JANA.

The blasts came after NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said time was running out for Libyan leader Gaddafi, who “should realise sooner rather than later that there’s no future for him or his regime”.

Rebels fighting to oust Gaddafi said they have driven his forces back from around the rebel-held western city Misrata and were poised to make another thrust.

After heavy clashes, the rebels controlled a stretch of coastal road west of Misrata, Libya’s third city which Gaddafi forces have laid siege to for more than two months, forcing thousands to flee.

In all, the United Nations said yesterday that nearly 750,000 people have fled Libya since Gaddafi’s forces launched an offensive against anti-government demonstrators.

“The conflict, the breakdown of state infrastructure and shortages of cash and fuel are causing serious problems to the population of Libya,” Valerie Amos, UN chief humanitarian coordinator, told the UN Security Council.

“Widespread shortages are paralysing the country in ways which will impact gravely on the general population in the months ahead, particularly for the poorest and the most vulnerable,” Amos told ambassadors from the 15-nation council.

The Red Cross meanwhile said it delivered a shipment of humanitarian aid to Misrata amid concerns Gaddafi’s forces may have dropped mines into the harbour from helicopters bearing the Red Cross emblem.

And the International Organisation for Migration said it had growing accounts from refugees arriving in Italy indicating an overloaded boat carrying up to 600 people capsized off the Libyan coast on Friday.

On the battle front, the rebels forced Gaddafi’s troops about 15km from Misrata yesterday, advancing to Dafnia and ready to move on Zliten, the next major town on the road to Tripoli.

NATO chief Rasmussen said time was running out for Gaddafi, who would ultimately lose his decades-old grip on power given the “wind of change” sweeping the Arab world, the death of al-Qa’ida chief Osama bin Laden and mounting pressure on the Taliban in Afghanistan.

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