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Libyan Rebel Council to Open Office in Washington

US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman at a press conference in the Libyan rebel stronghold eastern city of Benghazi on May 24, 2011

A top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East says the Libyan rebel's Transitional National Council has accepted an invitation from U.S. President Barack Obama to open a representative office in Washington

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said Tuesday in the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi that the United States is no longer speaking with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. He said the U.S. considered the opposition council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people, stopping short of granting formal recognition to the TNC.

The high-ranking U.S. diplomat is on a three-day visit to Libya and is the most senior U.S. official to visit the country since the uprising against Gadhafi began in February.

The diplomatic invitation comes as NATO warplanes rocked the Libyan capital, Tripoli, with some of its heaviest airstrikes yet.

Witnesses heard at least 15 explosions in the city as NATO warplanes roared overhead Tuesday. A Libyan government spokesman says the latest strikes killed at least three people and wounded dozens more.

On Monday, Britain and France announced that they plan to deploy attack helicopters to join the NATO air campaign. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe Monday said the deployment falls within the United Nations mandate to protect Libyan civilians. NATO says use of the helicopters will allow more precise targeting of Gadhafi's military.

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