AJDABIYA, Libya — NATO launched news airstrikes Wednesday on targets held by Moammar Gadhafi as the rebel movement urged a stronger air campaign that will allow them to advance on Gadhafi’s territory.
A NATO official confirmed a strike on at least one ammunition bunker outside the Libyan capital, Tripoli. He asked that his name not be used because the military alliance was not yet releasing the information publicly.
Libya’s official JANA news agency reported airstrikes Wednesday in three other places: Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city; Sirte, a Gadhafi stronghold and home to the Libyan leader’s tribe; and Aziziyah, about 22 miles (35 kilometres) south of Tripoli. Jana said the strike in Misrata was in an area “populated with residents.”
But Mohammed Abdullah, a Misrata activist and a professor, said residents had mostly evacuated that part of Misrata several weeks ago after Gadhafi troops stormed it.
“Gadhafi troops are misleading the NATO,” he said. “The Gadhafi forces turn the shops into weapon caches and then claim that the areas are residential.”
Libyan rebels have been pleading for more NATO airstrikes as top Western and Arab envoys gather in Qatar’s capital to discuss ways to end the Libyan crisis.
Mohamed Ismail Tajouri, a 54-year-old businessman who joined the rebels in their stronghold of Benghazi, said having a rebel delegation attend the Qatar meeting amounts to key international recognition.
“We are proud of this,” he told The Associated Press. “This political development is really good for the rebels but the Gadhafi regime is not normal. He is a bloody creature, he won’t leave until he spills some blood.”
At Wednesday’s meeting, a spokesman for Libyan rebels urged the U.S. military to reassert a stronger role in the NATO-led air campaign or risk more civilian casualties in the fighting between Gadhafi and forces seeking to end his four-decade rule.
The appeal by the spokesman, Mahmoud Shammam, appeared to set the urgent tone for the rebels’ meetings with the U.N.’s secretary-general and other top envoys.
While peace efforts remain the top objective, there also appears to be a shift toward trying to boost the rebels’ firepower to protect their territory from government offensives. One proposal noted by Italy — Libya’s former colonial ruler — calls for allies providing defensive weapons.
The meeting comes as fighting on the eastern side of the country has been restricted to the occasional barrage of rockets, in contrast to the rapid advances and retreats that characterized much of the fighting there in past weeks.
Gadhafi’s forces, however, continued to shell the besieged city of Misrata in recent days. International groups are warning of a dire humanitarian crisis in Misrata, the only city in western Libya still partially in the hands of rebels.
In the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, rebel spokesman Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga said representatives are in negotiations over arms deals with the countries that have recognized the movement’s National Transitional Council — France, Italy and Qatar — as well as with other countries.
“I think there will be no problem receiving weapons,” Ghoga said.
He added: “We believe that the solution with Col. Gadhafi’s regime will only come through force. There will not be a political solution unless it is imposed on this regime by the international community.”