Italy is ready to allow its air force to take “targeted action” against selected military objectives in Libya, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Monday.
In a telephone conversation with President Barack Obama of the United States, Mr. Berlusconi said, he told Mr. Obama “that Italy has decided to respond positively” to an appeal by the head of the NATO military alliance.
“Italy has decided to augment the operational flexibility of its planes through targeted actions against specific military objectives on Libyan territory in the context of contributing to protecting the Libyan civilian population,” he said in a subsequent statement.
In this way, the Italian prime minister said, “Italy remains within the limits set by the (NATO) mandate for the operation and the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.”
Earlier on Monday, an air strike by NATO destroyed Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s office in his immense Tripoli residence. The bombing came after heavy violence in the besieged city of Misrata, where Colonel Qaddafi’s troops—who had supposedly left the city—continued to fight rebels.
A Libyan official accompanying journalists to Mr. Qaddafi’s compound said 45 people were wounded, 15 seriously, in the bombing. He said that he did not know whether there were victims under the rubble.
“It was an attempt to assassinate Colonel Qaddafi,” he said, according to Agence-France Presse.
Saif al-Islam, Mr. Qaddafi’s son, described the bombing as “cowardly.”
“This cowardly attack on Colonel Qaddafi’s office may frighten or terrorize children but we will not abandon the battle and we are not afraid,” he said, claiming that NATO’s battle was “lost in advance.”
NATO warplanes had already late Friday targeted the Bab al-Aziziya district, where the presidential compound is located. NATO took over command of the military intervention on March 31.
At around 3:00 a.m. (0100 GMT) smoke was still rising from part of the building that was hit, watched by dozens of people shouting slogans praising the “Guide,” one of many monikers for Mr. Qaddafi.
A meeting room facing Colonel Qaddafi’s office was badly damaged by the blast, according to AFP.
The international coalition had already destroyed a building in the presidential compound, calling it a command center.
The explosions hit several districts of Tripoli, which has been the target since last Friday (April 22) of intense NATO raids.
Libyan state television transmissions were briefly cut off right after the explosions, before resuming a few minutes later.
The damage in the capital followed a day of heavy violence in the besieged city of Misrata.
Misrata, Libya’s third largest city, has a population of 550,000 out of the total Libyan population of 5.5 million.
On Sunday, Russian-made GRAD rockets exploded in Misrata, where at least 12 were reported killed and 60 wounded in fresh fighting, despite a vow by the Libyan regime to halt its fire in the western port city where the humanitarian situation has stirred international concern.
Two captured army soldiers told AFP that loyalist forces were losing their grip in the battle for Misrata.
The city suffered its heaviest toll in 65 days of fighting on Saturday, with 28 dead and 100 wounded compared to a daily average of 11 killed, according to Dr. Khalid Abu Falra at Misrata's “overwhelmed” main private clinic.
Libya’s opposition national council has, meanwhile, asked Egypt to stop Libyans based there from trying to destabilize revolt-held eastern Libya and funding Colonel Qaddafi’s government, the head of the council said on Sunday, according to Reuters.
Mustafa Abdel Jalil said he had contacted Egypt’s interim military government and asked it to prevent Mr. Qaddafi’s cousin Ahmed Qaddaf al-Dam and his aides from selling Libyan assets in Egypt to raise money for the Tripoli government, which is subject to UN financial and economic sanctions.
Mr. Qaddaf al-Dam denied the accusation, however, and Egypt’s ruling military council also said that Mr. Jalil's statements were erroneous.
“The military council stresses that what the media has lately picked up about Mr. Qaddaf al-Dam recruiting Egyptians to work as mercenaries in Libya is false,” it said in a statement on its official Facebook page.
Earlier on Sunday, Abdel Jalil said a delegation of east Libyan sheikhs were heading for Egypt to try to thwart an attempt by Colonel Qaddafi’s followers to turn tribal elders in border regions against the rebel leadership.
Mr. Qaddaf al-Dam, a rarely seen figure with a strong likeness to Colonel Qaddafi, was born in Egypt to a Libyan father and an Egyptian mother. He has spent many years acting as a go-between for Cairo and Tripoli.
Economic ties between the North African neighbors deepened after the West began lifting sanctions on Libya more than a decade ago. Colonel Qaddafi has diverted part of Libya’s growing oil revenues into investment projects in Egypt. Libya’s oil revenues in 2010 were $33 billion, up 61 percent from 2009 on account of the sharp rise in oil prices generally.
Since the Libyan revolution began, Egypt’s military rulers have avoided publicly taking sides but have kept the border with Libya open, ensuring that supplies of food and aid can reach the rebel-held east.
(Sara Ghasemilee of Al Arabiya can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Abeer Tayel, also of Al Arabiya, can be reached via email at: email@example.com)