NATO aircraft bombed targets near the Libyan capital Tripoli overnight, just hours after South African President Jacob Zuma met with embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in his military camp. Zuma’s attempt at mediation was followed by a visit Tuesday by Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to United Arab Emirates next week for a meeting on Libya's conflict. The State Department said Tuesday that Clinton will attend a June 9 meeting of the Libyan Contact Group.
The Italian foreign minister offered a biting assessment of Colonel Gadhafi’s grip on power, insisting that his regime is “finished” and that it is time for him to go. He also pledged Italy’s support to the rebel Transitional National Council in Benghazi.
"I confirm once again my full political support and the Italian full political support to the national council, and of course I repeated that Gadhafi regime is over [and] he has to leave the country," said Frattini.
His statement was in stark contrast to statements from Tripoli that Gadhafi has no intention of giving up power. South African President Jacob Zuma’s meeting Monday with the embattled Libyan leader focused on the already unsuccessful African Union “roadmap.”
"You make the point that let the Libyan people be given a chance to talk among themselves. Therefore, he's ready to implement the roadmap [of the African Union]," he said.
Both NATO and rebel leader Mustapha Abdel Jalil have repeatedly rejected any peace plan that does not include the departure of Gadhafi and his sons.
Frattini's visit to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi Tuesday struck another blow at Gadhafi’s grip on power, as the foreign minister inaugurated a new Italian consulate in the city.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini (L) signs a memorandum of understanding with Ali al-Essawi (R), the foreign affairs chief in the rebels' National Transitional Council, in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, May 31, 2011
Both Frattini and the rebels’ foreign policy chief, Ali al-Essawi, said the Libyan leader has lost the support of top confidants and the international community. Eight Libyan military officers defected to Italy on Monday.
Fathi Baja, the man often identified as the rebel “foreign minister” also told journalists that in his estimation, the international community is becoming more insistent in its demands that Colonel Gadhafi step down and leave the country.
"The discourse now of the international community in general has been changed. Now, they are not talking about political initiatives. Now, they're talking about - most of them - they are talking about steps for Gadhafi [to] leave, and this is really for us, some kind of change," he said.
Overnight, NATO warplanes struck near the Libyan capital, triggering several explosions. NATO indicated Tuesday it had struck four military sites to destroy missile launchers, radar and a vehicle storage facility.
Libyan government-run TV slammed the attacks, complaining that NATO had hit military and civilian targets, causing casualties and destruction.