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New airstrikes rattle Tripoli in Libya conflict

By Ivan Watson, Raja Razek and Jomana Karadsheh, CNN
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Gadhafi backers rally in Zawiyah
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: NATO says pre-dawn raid targeted tanks, ammo
  • A boat with Libyan asylum-seekers is rescued off Lampedusa coast
  • Warplanes launch sustained bombardgment of Tripoli suburb
  • Libyan leader condemns foes in fiery speech

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- Fighting between Libyan rebels and government troops raged around the eastern Libyan oil town of Brega throughout the weekend as NATO warplanes launched a sustained pre-dawn raid on Tripoli's eastern suburbs.

Distant explosions shook windows in central Tripoli for more than an hour during the raid, launched about 1 a.m. Sunday. NATO said later that the targets were warehouses full of Libyan tanks, troop carriers and ammunition in Tajoura, about 16 kilometers (10 miles) from the city's center.

The Western alliance has been bombarding Libya since late March a U.N. mandate to protect civilians from forces loyal to longtime strongman Moammar Gadhafi, who is attempting to put down a revolt against his nearly 42-year rule.

The strike on Tajoura followed "extensive intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance" of the target, the allied command reported Sunday. According to NATO, "the military equipment deployed from this facility was used to resupply pro-Gadhafi forces launching attacks on civilians."

A surface-to-air missile launcher and radar sites were also hit during the strike, which began shortly after midnight Sunday. It was the first time in several days that the alliance targeted Tripoli and its immediate surroundings.

Food shortages in Western Libya
RELATED TOPICS
  • Libya
  • Moammar Gadhafi
  • Tripoli

Allied warplanes also hit Brega, where rebels have reportedly sustained heavy casualties after several days of assaults on Gadhafi's forces. Meanwhile, a boat with 300 Libyan asylum-seekers was rescued off the coast of Lampedusa in Italy, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

Sunday's events followed a rally by mounted by pro-Gadhafi rallies in Zawiyah, west of Tripoli, where more than 10,000 portrait-waving demonstrators gathered amid a sea of green flags in the city's cratered and pock-marked central square.

Zawiyah was the scene of intense fighting last winter, in the early days of the anti-Gadhafi uprising that has left this country bitterly divided. Gadhafi's forces eventually succeeded in capturing the city, but recovery appears to have barely begun in its war-torn heart.

Municipal buildings and a hotel overlooking the central square still stand gutted, windows broken and facades still singed by fires. A vacant lot filled with sand marks the spot where a government minder said a mosque once stood. The mosque was apparently completely bulldozed in the months since Zawiyah was re-captured.

The rooftop of a conference center was still littered with sandbags, bullet casings, several military helmets and bottles stuffed with rags apparently for use as petrol bombs -- evidence that rebels fought from this roof before their defeat last winter.

The demonstration in Zawiyah, less than a half-hour's drive from the Libyan capital, was the third pro-Gadhafi rally in as many days. But unlike the previous rallies in the towns of Zlitan and Ajilat, there was a much larger security presence -- and members of the crowd were much more aggressive toward foreign journalists who were bused into the city by government minders.

The men, women and children who attended the rally, many of whom traveled by bus and car from nearby Tripoli, appeared fanatically devoted to Gadhafi.

"Allah, Moammar (Gadhafi), Libya only," chanted many men and women, some of whom beat their chests in devotion as they repeated the slogan.

As he had in previous rallies, Gadhafi addressed his supporters with an audio message that denounced the rebel-held enclaves in the west, center and east of the country. He also denounced the foreign governments that recently declared the rebel Transitional National Council, based in the eastern city of Benghazi, as the sole legitimate government in Libya.

"You agents, you traitors, start looking for survival," Gadhafi said, in comments that were simulcasted on Libyan state TV. "There will be no survival anywhere, get out of Benghazi, you traitors."

Saturday's rally looked like a victory celebration as well as a declaration to Libya and the rest of the world that Zawiyah was now firmly in Gadhafi's hands. But there were signs Gadhafi's forces still had concerns about security in Zawiyah.

A CNN journalist driving through the city hours before the rally officially took place saw security forces lining up three men who had apparently been detained against a wall.

And the reinforced presence included soldiers and police who used their vehicles to block off side roads leading to the main road running through the city.

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