Libya: Gunfire, explosions rock Tripoli for 3rd night

Anti-aircraft fire reverberates in capital; residents in Masrata, Zintan report attacks; US general sees decline in attacks on Libya.

Libyan rebels celebrate 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem)
Libyan rebels celebrate 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem)
TRIPOLI - Anti-aircraft fire and explosions reverberated across Tripoli for a third night on Monday and state television said several sites had come under attack in the capital.
Western powers had no immediate confirmation they had launched fresh strikes on Tripoli in a campaign to target Libyan air defenses and enforce a no-fly zone.
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A US general said, however, that attacks on Libya - launched in a UN mandated operation to stop attacks on civilians by Muammar Gaddafi's forces - were likely to slow in the coming days.
Despite the campaign, residents in two besieged rebel-held western cities, Misrata and Zintan, said they had been attacked by government troops, some of whom were expected to try to force their way into civilian areas to escape attack from the air. Rebels, who had been driven back towards their eastern Benghazi stronghold before the air attacks halted an advance by Gaddafi's forces, have so far done little to capitalize on the campaign, raising fears the war could grind to a stalemate.
Washington, wary of being drawn into another war after long campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, has ruled out specific action to overthrow Gaddafi, although France said on Monday it hoped the Libyan government would collapse from within.
"My sense is that, that unless something unusual or unexpected happens, we may see a decline in the frequency of attacks," General Carter Ham, who is leading US forces in the Libyan operation, told reporters in Washington.
Click for full Jpost coverage of turmoil in the Middle East
Click for full Jpost coverage of turmoil in the Middle East
He added, however, that "we possess the capability to bring overwhelming combat power to bear, as we have done in the initial stages of this, where it's been required".
Libyan state television reported that several sites in Tripoli had been subjected to new attacks by what it called the "crusader enemy".
"These attacks are not going to scare the Libyan people," state television said.
Anti-aircraft gunfire rang out throughout the night and pro-Gaddafi slogans echoed around the city centre. Cars sped through Tripoli streets honking wildly.
Al Jazeera television said coalition forces had struck radar installations at two air defense bases in eastern Libya late on Monday. However, a French armed forces spokesman said France, which has been involved in strikes in the east, had no planes in the air at the time.
In Misrata, residents said people had gone out into the streets to try to stop Gaddafi's forces entering the city.
"When they gathered in the center the Gaddafi forces started shooting at them with artillery and guns," said the resident, who gave his name as Saadoun. He said nine people were killed.
Zintan, near the Tunisian border, faced heavy shelling, two witnesses said, forcing residents to flee to mountain caves. Several houses were destroyed and a mosque minaret destroyed.
"New forces were sent today to besiege the city. There are now at least 40 tanks at the foothills of the mountains near Zintan," Abdulrahmane Daw told Reuters by phone from the town.
The reports could not be independently verified.