NATO extends Libya mission for 90 days

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who announced a 90 day extension of the mission in Libya. UPI/Alex Wong/POOL
1 of 2 | NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who announced a 90 day extension of the mission in Libya. UPI/Alex Wong/POOL | License Photo

MISURATA, Libya, June 1 (UPI) -- A car bomb went off outside a major hotel in the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi Wednesday, officials said. No casualties were reported.

Iran's Press TV reported the explosion occurred about 7 p.m. outside the Tibesti Hotel, where a number of Western government delegations and members of non-governmental organizations reside.


The blast immediately attracted a large, agitated crowd of people who started chanting anti-Gadhafi slogans, while police tried to secure the area, Press TV said.

The Chinese news agency Xinhua said the explosion damaged several other cars parked nearby in the VIP hotel's temporary parking lot.

An official with the rebel National Transitional Council said the amount of explosives involved was small and there were no people in the immediate vicinity when the bomb was detonated, Xinhua said.

No group had claimed responsibility for the attack.


"The damage was little, but the suspect was sending a strong threatening message to us," an unidentified witness told Xinhua.

The bombing came as NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Wednesday NATO and its partners will extend its mission to help the Libyan rebels in their fight against the government of Moammar Gadhafi for another 90 days.

"This decision sends a clear message to the Gadhafi regime: We are determined to continue our operation to protect the people of Libya," Rasmussen said in a statement posted on NATO's Web site. "We will sustain our efforts to fulfill the United Nations mandate. We will keep up the pressure to see it through."

The extension also sends a message to the people of Libya that the military alliance, its partners and the international community "stand with you," the secretary-general said.

"We stand united to make sure that you can shape your own future," he said. "And that day is getting closer."

NATO has been conducting airstrikes since mid-March against military installations and forces loyal to the Libyan leader to fulfill a U.N. mandate to protect civilians against Gadhafi, short of troops on the ground.

After a 72-hour bombing lull to allow South African President Jacob Zuma to fly into Tripoli on an unsuccessful peace mission for the African Union, NATO resumed its airstrikes on the Libyan capital Tuesday, The New York Times reported.


The 68-year-old Libyan leader was quoted in a statement issued by Zuma's office as having told the South African leader "he was not prepared to leave his country, despite the difficulties."

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said the regime "will never give in" to NATO and other organizations and world leaders who called upon Gadhafi to end his four decades of rule.

"We say: 'Who are you to say the Libyan cannot choose Moammar Gadhafi?'" Ibrahim said.

Elsewhere, former British special forces soldiers and other Western private security firm recruits are helping NATO spot Libyan targets, military sources told The Guardian.

The Special Air Service veterans are in and around the western Libyan port city of Misurata, the scene of heavy fighting between Gadhafi's forces and pro-democracy rebels, the newspaper said.

The former soldiers -- once part of elite military tactical teams trained to perform high-risk dangerous missions that conventional units cannot perform -- are passing details of the locations and movements of Gadhafi forces to the Naples, Italy, headquarters of Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, Canadian commander of NATO forces, sources told the newspaper.

It was not clear whether Americans are among the recruits.

The soldiers are likely providing information for British and French attack-helicopter pilots expected to start firing at targets in and around Misurata this week, the newspaper said.


Libya's Health Ministry said Tuesday NATO airstrikes killed 718 civilians between March 19 and May 26. The report provided no further information or breakdown on the casualties.

NATO has denied killing large numbers of civilians.

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