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NATO Airstrikes Damage Gadhafi's Tripoli Compound


Let's go next to Libya on a busy news day. A NATO airstrike early today badly damaged buildings in the military compound where Moammar Gadhafi lives in Tripoli. NPR's Peter Kenyon is monitoring this story from Benghazi in rebel-held eastern Libya. He's on the line.

And this is the second time I believe, Peter, that NATO has struck a Gadhafi compound. What's the reaction to this?

PETER KENYON: Well, Steve, government officials are calling it an assassination attempt. Witnesses said the strikes destroyed a building in the very large Bab al-Aziziya compound. There were conflicting accounts of how many people may have been wounded, ranging from a handful to dozens of people.

The buildings hit were described as a library and a meeting hall for foreign visitors. The compound also includes military targets. An earlier strike hit what Gadhafi officials called a parking lot. But witnesses said that that lot was above an underground bunker, which appeared to be the real target.

Now, this compound had been hit earlier by a cruise missile strike in the very first days of the international air campaign. There've been calls in Washington for NATO to target Gadhafi himself. So far, NATO insists that its mission is just to degrade Gadhafi's capacity to harm civilians.

INSKEEP: So we have this airstrike in Tripoli, the capital, and many other things happening around the country today. Let's try to get through some of them here. What is happening south and west of the capital, where there's reports of fighting?

KENYON: Well, as you know, the city of Misrata, the port city there in the west, has been getting pounded. And despite government comments that it was suspending operations and allowing for some kind of tribal mediation effort, in fact, the rocket fire and the shells have continued all weekend and again today. The death tolls have been difficult to confirm, but doctors have reported at least 50 people killed in the last three days.

Rebel fighters say the government's claim of a tribal peace effort is really just a smoke screen. But a Libyan spokesman in Tripoli told reporters the continued rocket fire on Misrata was in response to attacks. It's not clear the rebels can reach the government rocket launchers, but witnesses say NATO airstrikes have been heard outside the city as recently as today.

INSKEEP: So these reports we heard over the weekend of some kind of Libyan government withdrawal from Misrata are at least premature? They're still fighting there?

KENYON: Well, I think you'd have to say it's impossible to confirm this idea of a tribal mediation effort. But the idea of tribal leaders walking into Misrata with rockets and shells falling around them seems a big hard to fathom.

INSKEEP: Now, you're in eastern Libya, Peter Kenyon, which is the main territory held by the rebels. Are they getting better organized as time passes?

KENYON: Very, very slowly. And they are getting some badly-needed cash. Kuwait, another Persian Gulf state, has chipped in to the tune of $180 million. That's according to the rebel leader Mustafa�Abdul Jalil.

We've already seen Qatar being generous with support of humanitarian and possibly military aid, as well. Now the Kuwaitis have chipped in with a good chunk of cash. That will go, Jalil says, to pay the salaries of workers in rebel-held parts of the country.

Now, there's only four countries that have recognized this council so far. They're grateful for the aid. But the question is: Is it enough to move what many people are calling a stalemate? And I think at this point, all the rebels have managed to do is hold up their end of the stalemate. And it remains to be seen if the international community's ready to chip in something that could make a significant military difference.

INSKEEP: Well, in just a couple of seconds, are the rebels any better trained than they were a few weeks ago?

KENYON: Advisors have come in. They're getting help with communications and logistics, which are very urgently needed areas. But again, that is not really, in and of itself, going to be enough to change this stalemate.

INSKEEP: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Benghazi, Libya.

Peter, thanks very much.

KENYON: You're welcome, Steve.

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INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.