Tripoli/Washington, Apr 23 : Intensifying its air attacks on Gaddafi's forces, NATO fired its first Predator drone strike today, destroying a Libyan government multiple rocket launcher near Misurata.
The NATO strike came as a big boost to rebels who were coming under fierce attack Gaddafi's forces which were forcing them to retreat with heavy shelling and firing, using human shields, the BBC reported.
The Western nations have pledged to fight hard to see the end of the 41-year rule of 68-year-old Muammar Gaddafi.
Forces loyal to Gaddafi have decided to withdraw from the western besieged city of Misurata in a bid to allow the local tribes to find a solution to the deepening civil war.
“The situation in Misurata will be dealt with by the tribes around Misurata and Misurata's residents and not by the Libyan army,” Khaled Kaim, Libya's deputy foreign minister, told reporters.
“We will leave the tribes around Misurata and Misurata's people to deal with the situation, either using force or negotiations,” he said late last night.
Kaim said the Libyan army had been given an “ultimatum” to stop the rebellion in Misurata, 200 km east of the capital Tripoli.
“There was an ultimatum to the Libyan army: if they cannot solve the problem in Misurata, then the people from (the neighbouring towns of) Zliten, Tarhuna, Bani Walid and Tawargha will move in and they will talk to the rebels. If they don't surrender, then they will engage them in a fight,” he was quoted as saying by Al-Jazeera news channel.
Amid the looming humanitarian crisis, fighting between the rebels and Gaddafi's forces raged in Misurata, with reports saying that at least 10 people were killed.
Hours after the announcement of a shift in tactics in Misurata by the Libyan regime, NATO pounded what appeared to be a bunker near Gaddafi's compound in central Tripoli.
Government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said three people were killed by the “very powerful explosion” in a car park near the embattled leaders Bab al-Aziziyah compound.
Adm Mike Mullen, chairman of the US military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, has admitted that while the NATO air strikes had weakened the Libyan forces, the conflict was moving into “stalemate”.
Mullen, speaking to US troops in Iraq yesterday, said the fighting in Libya is “moving towards stalemate”, even though US and Nato air strikes have destroyed 30-40 person of Gaddafi's ground forces.
US Senator John McCain, who became the most high-profile Western politician to visit Benghazi yesterday,praised the rebels as his “heroes” and sought international recognition for the opposition's Transitional National Council (TNC). PTI