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Coalition Strikes Libyan Military Amid Ground Stalemate

French Air Force Rafale jet fighter comes back from a mission to Libya, at Solenzara Air Base, Corsica, March 24, 2011
French Air Force Rafale jet fighter comes back from a mission to Libya, at Solenzara Air Base, Corsica, March 24, 2011

Aircraft of a Western-led coalition struck military positions in Libya for a sixth day Thursday, as pro and anti-government forces fought on the ground in the east and west of the country.
French fighter jets shot down a Libyan government warplane over the city of Misrata on Thursday. U.S. officials reportedly believe the Libyan plane was a military training craft. Meanwhile, African Union announced it is hosting talks aimed at trying to halt the fighting.

Anti-aircraft batteries fired into the air over Tripoli overnight as coalition warplanes bombed military targets inside the capital and elsewhere. ABC News reported that coalition forces shot down a Libyan warplane that was defying the U.N.-imposed no-fly zone.

Meanwhile, Libyan state TV showed images of several charred bodies it said were casualties of the coalition bombing. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe insisted that coalition airstrikes are targeting only military sites.

Haitham al Traboulsi, a Libyan doctor who said he is in Tripoli, told al-Arabiya TV that "no civilians were hit" in recent coalition airstrikes and that the strikes were "extremely precise." He claimed that the bodies shown on Libyan TV were of people killed in previous fighting in Zawiya and Tripoli”

Libya's Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Kaim, however, complained to reporters that the western coalition is hitting civilian targets and he called for an end to airstrikes:

"The airstrikes as what happened today did not differentiate between civilians and armored personnel,” Kaim said. “To start up the national dialogue and get life back to normal, the airstrikes should stop immediately."

Witnesses in the government-besieged, rebel stronghold of Misrata in western Libya complained that pro-Gadhafi forces were shelling at random. A doctor in the town said snipers are firing on civilians, tanks are firing on buildings, there is no running water, food is scarce and conditions at the hospital are deplorable.

Deputy Foreign Minister Kaim, however, insisted that government forces were observing a cease-fire in Misrata, despite numerous reports to the contrary:

"The situation is just confined to a number of pockets of violence and snipers scattered in different areas of Misrata,” he added. “There is no attack from the Libyan forces, from air or from ground, and there are no military operations of the ground in Misrata."

Closer to the main rebel-held city of Benghazi in eastern Libya, fighting between lightly-armed rebel forces and Gadhafi loyalists continued on the outskirts of Ajdabiya for a third day, with little sign of change.

Elsewhere, people in the western Libyan town of Zintan, between Tripoli and the Tunisian border, told al-Arabiya TV that pro-Gadhafi forces continue to shell their town.

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