Nato launched its fiercest bombardment of Tripoli in weeks yesterday, while government forces responded to rebel claims of a breakout from Misrata with intensive shelling of civilian areas in the port city.
The Free Libya forces, as the rebels have asked to be called, broke through the front line in small numbers in the country's third-largest city and had consolidated their new positions to the west of the port, according to independent reports.
The apparent deadlock in the battle for Libya has put pressure on Nato to show that its aerial strategy of degrading government forces is having an impact on the ground. Fighting continues in pockets in the west, in Misrata and at the front between government-held Brega and the rebel-held positions outside Ajdabiya.
Even incremental progress on any of these fronts would help to calm coalition nerves, frayed by a weeks-long stalemate and accusations from Russia and others that it is overstepping its UN mandate to protect civilians.
In the capital, early morning sorties yesterday appeared to hit targets including Muammar Gaddafi's compound, where witnesses heard five blasts. A spokesman for the regime said several children had been hurt in earlier bombings.
Most foreign news organisations, including The Independent, are barred from Tripoli. Journalists who have been allowed to stay must operate under the strict control of the regime, making it impossible to verify government claims. Foreign reporters were taken to part of the parliament flattened by a missile attack, which had previously been the centre for the study of the Libyan leader's Green Book. An idiosyncratic and largely nonsensical compendium of contradictory claims, thousands of copies of the book have been burned by people who had previously been forced to read it in eastern Libya.
Days of heavy bombardment of regime positions outside the oil terminal of Brega culminated in a battle on Monday; Free Libya forces claimed to have killed 36 government soldiers and destroyed 12 vehicles. These claims have not been independently verified.
An opposition newspaper claimed that defecting soldiers in Tripoli had joined the uprising and that a Free Libya flag had been briefly raised in the capital on Monday. These reports led to more raucous celebrations in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, where weapons were fired into the air.
Concern was mounting over the fate of a vessel carrying as many as 600 African migrants seen listing badly in the water off Libya last week. Nato, which has 20 ships patrolling Libyan waters, denied it had ignored a vessel in distress and rejected accusations it failed to help another migrant boat.Reuse content