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Allied Strikes Target Libyan Forces Near Rebel Cities

Destroyed military vehicles are seen at a naval military facility after coalition air strikes in People's Port in eastern Tripoli, March 22, 2011

Allied airstrikes began targeting Libyan military units loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi Wednesday as pro-government forces resumed their attacks on rebel-held cities and snipers continued to kill civilians.

U.S. Rear Admiral Gerard Hueber says the coalition is now directing its firepower against Mr. Gadhafi's ground forces that are "attacking civilian populations in cities," including mechanized units, artillery and mobile missile sites.

Western planes launched a series of air strikes near the besieged western city of Misrata early Wednesday, temporarily halting government attacks. But loyalist forces later resumed their assault on Libya's third-largest city.

A doctor in Misrata said pro-Gadhafi forces were shelling indiscriminately, including near the city's only hospital, and that snipers were firing on civilians from rooftops. A rebel spokesman ((Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga)) said 16 people were killed there Wednesday.

Loyalist forces also continued their assaults on the rebel-held cities of Zintan and Ajdabiya. Several loud explosions were heard near Tripoli late Wednesday, the fifth consecutive night of airstrikes against the capital. Libyan state television said Western planes had struck military targets there and in Jafar, southwest of the capital.

Meanwhile, NATO warships and aircraft began patrolling off Libya's coast to enforce a U.N. arms embargo. A Canadian general said 16 ships have been offered by NATO members, including five from Turkey, the organization's sole Muslim member.

A senior British military officer says coalition forces have gained control of Libya's airspace.

Air Vice Marshal Greg Bagwell says allied air forces operate with "near impunity" over Libya. He also said Wednesday that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's air force "no longer exists as a fighting force."

Thousands of people marched through the streets of the rebel stronghold Benghazi on Wednesday to show their support for the coalition's "no-fly" zone over Libya.

NATO is moving to assume responsibility for the "no-fly" zone set up under United Nations' authorization to protect civilians. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe says NATO will take an "operational" role in applying flight restrictions over Libya.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says there are "any number of possible outcomes" in Libya and no one is in a position to predict the country's future. He commented on Wednesday from Cairo, where he is holding talks with Egyptian officials on the Middle East uprisings.

Late Tuesday, Mr. Gadhafi vowed to emerge victorious in the fight against rebels and international forces. In his first public appearance in a week, he said Libya is ready for battle, whether it be long or short.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.