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LIBYA: NATO warplanes hit ship in Tripoli port

May 19, 2011 |  7:19 pm

NATO warplanes on Thursday struck a ship berthed in Tripoli’s commercial port, said Libyan authorities, who took foreign journalists to a bridge in the harbor area where a vessel could be seen burning about a mile offshore.

A Libyan official accompanying the journalists said the ship, between two large cargo container  vessels, was a civilian craft, possibly a yacht.

But a photograph of the burning ship taken with a telephoto lens suggested that it was a warship with a large main gun. Much of Libya’s navy was destroyed in the early days of the NATO-led bombing campaign against the regime of Moammar Kadafi.

Early Friday, Musa Ibrahim, the chief Libyan government spokesman, said it didn’t matter what kind of vessel was hit.

"Doesn’t Libya have a right to have military ships?" Ibrahim asked. "What does this have to do with protecting civilians?" he said, referring to NATO’s mission under United Nations guidelines.

There was no word on whether anyone was injured in the harbor blast.

NATO has alleged that Libyan boats have planted mines in the harbor of the rebel-controlled city of Misurata, 125 miles east of Tripoli, endangering ships carrying refugees  and delivering humanitarian aid for besieged city.

Earlier, Ibrahim said Libya would welcome a U.S. "fact finding mission" to determine the truth of what was happening in Libya. Also, Ibrahim said, the Kadafi regime might be willing to consider withdrawing  its military forces from major cities if both sides in the conflict agreed to a cease fire.

But both Libyan proposals, Ibrahim  said, have as a pre-condition  an end to the NATO airstrikes. The U.S. and other nations waging the air campaign have their own  pre-condition for talks — that Kadafi leave power. Kadafi has no intention of stepping down, the government spokesman said, adding that the Obama administration and other NATO governments have no right to demand his ouster.


NATO expects Kadafi regime to collapse eventually

Obama makes blunt push for Middle East peace

Obama hints at shift on Syria

— Patrick McDonnell, in Tripoli, Libya

Photo: A ship is seen burning in Tripoli's port after NATO airstrikes Thursday. Credit: Mahmud Turkia AFP/Getty Images