TRIPOLI (AFP) – NATO-led air strikes on Thursday hit Moamer Kadhafi’s compound, killing three people, the Libyan regime said, as rebels celebrated the capture of Misrata airport and fresh diplomatic coups in the West.
The pre-dawn strikes in the capital Tripoli came just hours after Libyan state television showed what it said was footage of Kadhafi meeting tribal leaders, the first new video of him aired since an April 30 air strike that his government termed an attempt on his life.
“Three people died — two of them are journalists and one was their guide who was helping them film a documentary,” government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim told a news conference in the Bab al-Aziziya compound that was held next to a large, water-filled crater.
He identified the dead journalists as Ali al-Graw and Ismail al-Sharif and said they were filming “hundreds of people who were celebrating their resilience against NATO.”
The spokesman said Graw was a Libyan journalist and filmmaker, but did not provide further details on Sharif, or specify which news organisation the two worked for.
He identified their guide as Abdel Salam Massoud Mohammed, 25, and said that “in addition to these three martyrs, we have 27 injured people” from various strikes.
The strike, which appeared to have been by a “bunker-buster” bomb, which penetrates underground and then explodes, had hit a “sewage location,” according to the spokesman.
Journalists were blocked from inspecting a nearby staircase leading underground, which was surrounded by regime supporters.
Late on Wednesday, state television had shown footage of what it said was a meeting between Kadhafi and tribal dignitaries from the rebel-held east.
A Libyan official told AFP the video was shot at around 7:30 pm (1730 GMT).
It was the first fresh footage of Kadhafi since an air strike killed his son Seif al-Arab and three of his grandchildren, in what the government described as “a direct operation to assassinate the leader of this country.”
NATO spokesmen have repeatedly insisted that they have made no attempt to strike individual leaders of the Libyan government, but have only targeted its capacity to harm civilians.
The Western alliance said NATO-led aircraft carried out 46 strike sorties on Wednesday, including raids which took out four ammunition caches, four command and control facilities, and two surface-to-air missile launchers in and around Tripoli, and one launcher near Misrata.
In Washington, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the air war in Libya has cost the United States roughly $750 million to date, more than the Pentagon’s initial estimate of $604 million.
Senior rebel leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil held talks in London with British Prime Minister David Cameron, buoyed by their capture of Misrata airport on Wednesday which gave them full control of Libya’s third city, their only significant stronghold in the west.
In another diplomatic coup, US officials announced that rebel chief Mahmud Jibril was to visit the White House on Friday.
“National Security Advisor Tom Donilon looks forward to welcoming Dr Mahmud Jibril and the delegation from the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) to the White House on Friday afternoon,” the White House said.
Abdul Jalil told a news conference in London that Kadhafi was a “legitimate target” for NATO forces as commander-in-chief of the government’s armed forces, and appealed for more weapons for the rebels.
Cameron, meanwhile, invited the NTC to open an office in London, their first foreign mission.
In addition, “we are now completing plans to transfer several million pounds worth of equipment to the police in Benghazi. We will also provide new support to improve the council’s public broadcasting capacities,” Cameron said.
“These steps signal our very clear intent to work with you and your colleagues to ensure that Libya has a safe and stable future, free from the tyranny of the Kadhafi regime,” he added.
Britain did not extend full diplomatic recognition to the rebels as its European partners France and Italy have done, along with Gambia and Qatar.
“The UK recognises states not governments,” a Foreign Office spokesman told AFP.
The rebels’ capture of Misrata airport on Wednesday was their first significant advance in weeks and residents of the western port city celebrated into the night, an AFP correspondent said.
Salah Badi, who commanded the assault on the airport, said rebel positions were now only 10 kilometres (six miles) from Zliten, the next main centre on the 215-kilometre coast road from Misrata to Tripoli.
On Thursday, a Frenchman died in a hospital in Benghazi after having been brought in with gunshot wounds, a doctor said.