TRIPOLI(AFP) – Strong explosions rocked Tripoli Friday as fighting between rebels and Moamer Kadhafi’s forces raged on multiple fronts in western Libya and the Red Cross warned the humanitarian situation is worsening.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said meanwhile it is drawing up plans for the evacuation of thousands of migrants stranded in Tripoli because exit points have been cut off following a spate of rebel successes.
A slew of explosions were heard around 1:00 am (2300 GMT) in the heart of the seaside capital where Kadhafi’s residential complex is located, as well as in several areas in the west of the city.
NATO in its latest operational update said its warplanes had on Thursday destroyed four military facilities and a surface to air missile in the vicinity of Tripoli.
With the rebels pushing closer to Tripoli, vowing to take it before the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan ends late August, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini urged the population of the capital to rise up against Kadhafi.
“We hope the people of Tripoli, who unfortunately are already fleeing, understand the regime has harmed its own people and will therefore join a process of political change to cut off room for manoeuvre for Kadhafi’s regime,” Frattini said in Rome.
The rebels meanwhile said they had early Friday launched a fresh assault on Zliten, 150 kilometres (93 miles) east of Tripoli, and after a fight lasting just hours had pushed into the centre of the town.
The offensive was launched around 07:30 am (0530 GMT) and “at 1:00 pm our information indicates that the rebel troops entered the city centre,” the Information Centre For Misrata Military Council said in a statement.
“The battle began with an artillery bombardment on the positions of Kadhafi’s forces, followed by a swift movement forward by rebels,” the statement said.
“Kadhafi forces have used tanks to try unsuccessfully to repel the rebels. There are dead and injured rebels,” it added. A total of “1,230 rebel fighters took part in the attack.”
“Between 40 and 50 Kadhafi forces were killed” in the fighting, while some 12 African mercenaries were captured, the statement said, adding that 40 insurgents were wounded, 10 of them seriously.
Rebels have been seeking to sever Tripoli’s supply lines from Tunisia to the west and to Kadhafi’s hometown of Sirte in the east in a move they hope will cut off the capital, prompt defections and spark an uprising inside Tripoli.
Fighting was also raging in the western town of Zawiyah, a key source of fuel supplies to the capital, and the last major barrier before the rebels can think about advancing on Tripoli.
The opposition forces said Thursday they had seized the refinery in the town but Libyan Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmudi hotly disputed the claim, saying the refinery was “without doubt” still in loyalists’ hands.