MISRATA, Libya (AFP) – Libyan leader Mummer Gaddafi remained defiant on Tuesday after his compound was hit by NATO bombs and rebels in Misrata said they had pushed his troops out of the besieged city.
Russia, meanwhile, said it will not back a new UN Security Council resolution on Libya if it calls for further foreign intervention.
“The leader is working from Tripoli. The leader is well, is very healthy, is leading the battle for peace and democracy in Libya,” regime spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said outside the bombed building at Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya residence.
“The leader is in a safe place. He is leading a battle… he works every day. He led the battle to provide people with services, with food, medicine, fuel,” Ibrahim told a news conference in the presence of several ambassadors.
A meeting room facing Gaddafi’s office was badly damaged in what NATO in Brussels said was “a precision strike” on a communications centre early on Monday.
Three people were killed and 45 wounded — 15 seriously — in the air strike, Ibrahim said.
At least five explosions rocked eastern Tripoli on Monday night, witnesses said, although they could not pinpoint the location.
“We heard three loud explosions and we saw flames and smoke billowing close to us,” a resident of Ain Zara neighbourhood in eastern Tripoli told AFP.
Two other detonations shook the same neighborhood a few minutes later, another witness said.
AFP reporters and medics said that rockets and artillery shells fell sporadically in besieged rebel-held Misrata late Monday, but no explosions were heard in the night and there appeared to be a lull in the fighting.
Rebels in the city, 215 kilometres (132 miles), east of Tripoli, said they have pushed Gaddafi’s troops out after a siege lasting more than seven weeks.
“There may be some soldiers hiding in the city, afraid of being killed, but there are no groups of soldiers left,” one rebel said.
Rockets and mortars had rained down on Misrata overnight Sunday-Monday, killing at least a dozen people and wounding 20, according to figures provided by sources at hospitals across Misrata.
In the Mujamaa Tibi hospital, Mohamed al-Fajieh described unusually severe wounds and corpses reduced to little more than ashes.
There were “completely charred corpses, some of them so badly burned that we aren’t sure they are human bodies,” he told AFP. “This is the first time we’ve seen such burns.”
Doctor Khalid Abu Falra at Misrata’s main private clinic said on Tuesday another two bodies had been brought to his facility of people killed overnight by mortar shells near the eastern outskirts of the city.
Sources said those caught up in the violence were all civilians — including young children.
Rebel leader Taher Bashaga said: “It will take some time, I think, but then it will all go well and Misrata will be free for ever, God willing.”
However, the claim was greeted skeptically in the eastern city of Benghazi, bastion of the rebellion that erupted in mid-February against the veteran strongman.
The Transitional National Council’s military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani dismissed reports of progress in Misrata.
“It is a disaster there,” he said. “Gaddafi is not going anywhere. Misrata is the key to Tripoli. If he lets go of Misrata, he will let go of Tripoli. He is not crazy enough to do that.”
Libya’s Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim says the army suspended operations against rebels in Misrata, but hasn’t left the city, to enable local tribes to settle the battle “peacefully and not militarily.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow will not back a new UN Security Council resolution on Libya if it calls for further foreign intervention.
In comments on the Interfax news agency, Lavrov noted that a new resolution on the conflict was not being discussed, but added that “if it leads to a further escalation of civil war through one method or another, including foreign intervention, we will not be able to support it.”
Russia, however, could back new UN action if it “calls for an immediate end to all violence, bloodshed, the use of force, military action, and calls on all sides to immediately sit down at the negotiating table,” Lavrov added.
Russia abstained from the March vote on the Security Council no-fly zone resolution, refraining from using its veto in a move that drew praise from the West.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Monday Italy’s air force will take part in “targeted action” in Libya.
Meanwhile, 2,000 foreigners remain in Misrata still hoping to be evacuated, US officials said Monday.
Protests in Libya inspired by the revolts that toppled longtime autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia escalated into war when Gaddafi’s troops fired on demonstrators and protesters seized several eastern towns.