Gaddafi is winner as allies split on attacks
Muammar Gaddafi shakes hands with a supporter as he travels through the streets of Tripoli yesterday. REUTERS
NATO has admitted that the refusal of Italy, Spain and Holland to allow their combat planes to carry out ground strikes is causing the alliance to lose momentum in attacks on Muammar Gaddafi's forces.
Only six out of the alliance's 28 member countries are carrying out air strikes over Libya as besieged rebels desperately plead for an intensification of military operations.
In an attempt to show the Libyan regime that NATO still meant business, warplanes hit targets in Tripoli yesterday, with reports of at least four explosions close to Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound.
However, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO's secretary-general, admitted that more attack aircraft were needed to hit tanks, artillery and rocket batteries as the conflict entered a crucial phase.
"To avoid civilian casualties we need a few more precision fighter ground-attack aircraft for air-to-ground missions," he said.
A meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin yesterday heard calls by Britain and France for others to become involved in a more aggressive role, but they were rebuffed and the row deepened divisions within the alliance over the campaign.
Turkey and Germany have refused to allow their air forces to take any role in the mission.
Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister, said Rome feared reviving memories of Mussolini's fascist occupation of North Africa, although he did suggest he was ready to listen to rebel pleas for more action.
"Italy has apologised to the Libyan people for the horrors committed during the period of fascist colonisation, so if civilian casualties were caused by any bombing operations it would be an extremely serious thing," he said. "If the Libyans give us strong arguments we will see."
Spain will not allow its four F18s to be involved in anything other than patrols to enforce the no-fly zone and arms embargo.
However, the British foreign secretary William Hague is "hopeful" other members would provide more attack planes.
"There are certainly quite a few countries that don't rule out doing so and that may well give consideration to it. It does need us to follow it up," he said.
The disagreements took place as rebels in the strategic city of Misurata came under heavy rocket bombardment and warned that "a massacre will take place here if NATO does not intervene strongly". (© Daily Telegraph, London)