Blasts heard in Gaddafi stronghold Sirte, Tripoli

Witnesses say at least 10 explosions heard in Libya capital; convoy of 20 military vehicles including truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns seen moving west; NATO agrees to take full command of operations.

March 27, 2011 21:39
2 minute read.
Fighter Jet (illustrative)

Qatar Air Force Dassault Mirage 2000-5 fighter jet 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

SIRTE - Witnesses in Sirte, hometown of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and in the capital Tripoli said they had heard at least 10 explosions on Sunday night.

A Reuters reporter in Sirte, midway between rebel-held Benghazi and Tripoli, said it was not clear if the four explosions there had been in the town or on its outskirts.

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The reporter, part of a group of Western media taken to Sirte by the government, had earlier said a convoy of 20 military vehicles including truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns had been seen leaving Sirte and moving westwards towards Tripoli.

Libyan rebels, emboldened by the capture of Ajdabiyah to the east of Sirte, were pushing west on Sunday to retake more territory from Gaddafi's forces, which were pulling back under pressure from Western air strikes.

At least six blasts also resonated in Tripoli, and Libyan television said they were the result of Western air strikes.

"Civilian and military areas in Tripoli were hit a short while ago by the crusader, colonialist aggressors," it said in a written news flash.

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The explosions were followed by sustained bursts of anti-aircraft gunfire by Libyan forces.

Sirte is strategically important because the civilian airport to the south of the town is also home to what appears to be a large military air base.

Satellite images show that there are about 50 reinforced concrete hangars, of the kind usually used to house fighter jets, arranged in clusters around either end of the runway.

The fight over Sirte is likely to be tough because the town is psychologically important: it is not only where Gaddafi was born, and home to many members of his Gaddadfa tribe, but also a place that he has fashioned into a second capital, designed in his own extravagant image.

NATO agreed on Sunday to take full command of military operations in Libya, a diplomat and a NATO official said.

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