TRIPOLI, Libya, (AP) – A series of at least 10 NATO strikes hit in and around the Libyan capital early on Friday, targeting military barracks close to Gaddafi’s sprawling compound in central Tripoli, a police station and a military base, a government official said. It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties.
The strikes appeared to be the heaviest in Tripoli since South African President Jacob Zuma visited Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in the capital earlier this week in an apparently unsuccessful effort to find a peaceful resolution to the country’s crisis.
Meanwhile, a Libyan woman who claimed she was gang-raped by Gaddafi’s troops was deported from Qatar where she had sought refuge, and was now in Benghazi, a U.N. official said Thursday.
Imad al-Obeidi’s sudden expulsion cast light again on one of the most widely covered incidents of alleged abuses by Gaddafi’s forces as NATO continues its relentless nightly bombing raids on Libyan military and security bases, backing rebels who are trying to unseat the Libyan strongman after a four-decade dictatorship.
In March, al-Obeidi rushed into Tripoli’s Rixos Hotel where all foreign correspondents are forced to stay while covering the part of Libya under Gaddafi’s control, and shouted out her story of being stopped at a checkpoint, dragged away and gang-raped by soldiers. As she spoke emotionally and as photographers and reporters recorded her words, government minders, whose job is to escort reporters around the area, jumped her and dragged her away.
She disappeared for several days, then turned up in Tunisia and later Qatar. She was heard from little until Thursday, when she was suddenly expelled from Qatar and ended up in Benghazi, the Libyan rebels’ de facto capital. No explanation was forthcoming from Qatar.
Rebel spokesman Jalal el-Gallal said al-Obeidi arrived in Benghazi by plane. “She’s welcome to stay, this is her country,” el-Gallal told The Associated Press.
The U.N. refugee agency’s Sybella Wilkes said al-Obeidi should have been allowed to stay in Qatar, and her deportation runs contrary to international law. Al-Obeidi “is a recognized refugee, and we don’t consider there is any good reason for her deportation,” Wilkes told the AP.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. was “monitoring the situation” and working to ensure al-Obeidi’s safety.
“We’re concerned for her safety, given all that’s happened to her. And we’re going to work to make sure that she’s kept safe, first and foremost, and that she finds appropriate asylum,” Toner told reporters in Washington on Thursday.
Libyan authorities have alternately labeled al-Obeidi a drunk, a prostitute and a thief.
Al-Obeidi has maintained that she was targeted by Gaddafi’s troops because she is from Benghazi, the rebel stronghold. Her rape claim could not be independently verified. The Associated Press identifies only rape victims who volunteer their names.
Human rights violations are one aspect of the rebels’ complaints against the Gaddafi regime. This week a report by a U.N. body said it found evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity by Gaddafi’s government, and also charged that the rebels have committed abuses.
Four of the early morning blasts Friday shook central Tripoli, targeting an area where military barracks are located, said a government official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government policy. Those barracks, which had been hit in the past, are close to Gaddafi’s sprawling compound.
Six earlier strikes targeted a police station and a military base outside the capital in the areas of Hera and Aziziya, said the official.
The conflict in Libya is nearly four months along, but the situation on the ground appears mostly stalemated. NATO airstrikes have kept the outgunned rebels from being overrun, but the rebels have been unable to mount an effective offensive against Gaddafi’s better equipped armed forces.
Gaddafi’s regime has been slowly crumbling from within. A significant number of army officers and several Cabinet ministers have defected, and most have expressed support for the opposition, but Gaddafi’s hold on power shows little sign of loosening.
NATO warplanes bomb targets in Tripoli, including Gaddafi’s sprawling Bab al-Aziziya residential and command compound, on a nightly basis.
Gaddafi has been seen in public rarely and heard even less frequently since a NATO airstrike on his compound killed one of his sons on April 30. Questions are arising about the physical and mental state of the 69-year-old dictator, who has ruled Libya since 1969.
Rebels have turned down initiatives calling for cease-fires, insisting that Gaddafi and his sons must relinquish power and leave the country.