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Sat 26 Mar 2011 09:56 AM

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Jets strike Gaddafi targets in bid to break stalemate

African Union says it is planning talks to help end the war, but NATO says it could last three months

Jets strike Gaddafi targets in bid to break stalemate
Jets strike Gaddafi targets in bid to break stalemate
Jets strike Gaddafi targets in bid to break stalemate
(ADJ WEYER/AFP/Getty Images) - Use the photo credit exactly as given: its copyrighted
Jets strike Gaddafi targets in bid to break stalemate

Western warplanes

bombed Muammar Gaddafi's tanks and artillery in eastern Libya to

try to break a battlefield stalemate and help rebels take the

strategic town of Ajdabiyah.

Rebels said they had entered Ajdabiyah from the east on

Friday, Al Jazeera reported, while Gaddafi's forces held on in

the west of the town, which commands the coastal road towards


The African Union said it was planning to facilitate talks

to help end the war, but NATO said its operation could last

three months, and France said the conflict would not end soon.

In Washington, a US military spokeswoman said the

coalition fired 16 Tomahawk cruise missiles and flew 153 air

sorties in the past 24 hours targeting Gaddafi's artillery,

mechanised forces and command and control infrastructure.

Western governments hope the raids, launched a week ago with

the aim of protecting civilians, will shift the balance of power

in favour of the Arab world's most violent popular revolt.

In Tripoli, explosions were heard early on Saturday,

signalling possible new strikes by warplanes or missiles.

As the United States said Gaddafi's ability to command and

sustain his forces was diminishing, Libyan state TV said the

"brother leader" had promoted all members of his armed forces

and police "for their heroic and courageous fight against the

crusader, colonialist assault", without giving further details.

Rebels massing for an attack on Ajdabiyah earlier exchanged

artillery fire with Gaddafi's forces.

Opposition forces on the road there seemed more organised

than in recent days, when their disarray stirred doubts about

their ability to challenge Gaddafi.

They had set up road blocks at regular intervals and

Reuters counted at least four truck-based rocket launchers --

heavier weaponry than had been seen earlier this week.

Winning back Ajdabiyah would be the biggest victory for the

eastern rebels since Western military intervention halted a

counter-offensive by the better equipped Gaddafi forces which

had driven them back towards the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

It would also signal that allied airstrikes may be capable

of helping rebel fighters to eventually topple Gaddafi.

At African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, AU commission

chairman Jean Ping said the organisation was planning to

facilitate peace talks in a process that should end with

democratic elections.

It was the first statement by the AU, which had rejected any

form of foreign intervention in the Libya crisis, since the UN

Security Council imposed a no-fly zone last week and air strikes

began on Libyan military targets.

But in Brussels, a NATO official said planning for NATO's

operation assumed a mission lasting 90 days, although this could

be extended or shortened as required.

France said the mission could go on for weeks.

"I doubt that it will be days," Admiral Edouard Guillaud,

the head of French armed forces, told France Info radio. "I

think it will be weeks. I hope it will not take months."

Guillaud said a French plane destroyed an army artillery

battery near Ajdabiyah, while in London, the Defence Ministry

said British Tornado aircraft had also been active there.

A Reuters correspondent who travelled close to Ajdabiyah on

Friday saw large plumes of black smoke rising above the eastern

entrance to the town.

A rocket apparently fired from rebel positions then hit the

eastern gate, sending a fireball into the sky. "The eastern gate

has fallen and we are sending a team to check before moving

forward," rebel Colonel Hamad al-Hasi told Reuters.

In Benghazi, rebel spokesman Mustafa Gheriani said he

expected Ajdabiyah to fall following the Western strikes.

"(The strikes) will weaken their forces and more importantly

their morale," he said, adding the level of Western strikes was

"sufficient. We feel safe under their protection".

Simon Brooks, head of the International Committee of the Red

Cross operations in eastern Libya, reported big population

movements from the Ajdabiyah area because of the fighting.

Officials and rebels said aid organisations were able to

deliver some supplies to the western city of Misrata but were

concerned because of government snipers in the city centre.

Gaddafi's forces shelled an area on the outskirts of the

city, killing six people including three children, a rebel said.

Misrata has experienced some of the heaviest fighting

between rebels and Gaddafi's forces since an uprising began on

February 16.