TRIPOLI, Libya — NATO airstrikes struck Moammar Gadhafi's sprawling compound in Tripoli and three other sites early Thursday, hours after the Libyan leader was shown on state TV in his first appearance since his son was killed nearly two weeks ago.
Explosions thundered across the Libyan capital and wailing ambulances raced through the city as the last missile exploded.
Government officials and state-run Libyan television said the strikes early targeted Bab al-Azaziya, Gadhafi's sprawling compound in Tripoli. They did not say which of the compound's buildings were targeted.
At the nearby Khadra Hospital, medics wheeled in the bodies of two men they said were killed in the shelling. One of the men was completely blackened and charred, his hands pausing mid-chest as if trying to defend himself when he died. The other man's body covered by a green blanket, his leg dangling from the stretcher.
From a bus ferrying reporters to the hospital, smoke could be seen rising from part of the Gadhafi compound. Skid marks left from screeching vehicles crisscrossed the roads around it.
The medics said others had been killed by the airstrikes and were still being retrieved from the compound.
Gadhafi's compound has frequently been the site of recent airstrikes, including one on April 30 that killed the leader's son, Seif al-Arab. Officials said the Libyan leader was in the compound when that strike occurred but escaped unharmed.
In an apparent effort to dispel rumors that Gadhafi himself had been killed, Libyan state TV showed him meeting tribal leaders, but did not record him speaking. To authenticate the scene, the camera zoomed in on the date on a TV monitor in the room, which read Wednesday, May 11. It was apparently recorded at the hotel where foreign correspondents must reside in Tripoli. Gadhafi did not make himself available to them.
The last time Gadhafi had been seen in public was April 9, when he visited a school in Tripoli.
According to the Libyan state news agency, JANA, one of the NATO strikes hit the North Korean Embassy in the capital, Tripoli. JANA said the mission was badly damaged by fragments of a NATO missile fired Monday.
Intensified NATO airstrikes on Gadhafi's forces across Libya have given a boost to rebels fighting to oust the regime, with the opposition claiming Wednesday that it had captured the airport in the western city of Misrata. In all, NATO said Wednesday, the alliance has carried out more than 2,400 airstrikes since March 31 as part of the effort to assist the rebels and pressure Gadhafi to end his 42-year authoritarian rule.
In Tripoli, a government spokesman denied the Misrata rebels' claims of success.
"This is nonsense," said Moussa Ibrahim. "We control the airport and we also control the sea port."
Even though some of the recent reports of ground combat are difficult to confirm, they seem to represent a major boost for the rebels' military prospects after weeks of stalemate on several fronts.
According to a rebel who identified himself as Abdel Salam, rebels were in total control of the airport in Misrata's southern outskirts after two days of fighting. He said five rebels were killed and 105 injured.
He said rebels are also pushing west from Misrata, toward the nearby city of Zlitan, hoping to then advance farther toward Tripoli.
"This is a major victory," Abdel Salam said. "The Gadhafi forces have been suffering lack of supplies ... Their morale was very low after being defeated several times and pushed back."
The rebels control most of eastern Libya, but Misrata — about 125 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli — is the only rebel stronghold in the west. Local doctors say more than 1,000 of its residents have been killed in the fighting and shelling during the siege by Gadhafi's forces.
Access to the port has been limited but not halted. The International Committee of the Red Cross has a chartered ship floating in the harbor which delivered medical supplies and baby food on Tuesday and is now being used to support ICRC work in the city.
Ibrahim did acknowledge that the war was creating severe shortages of many commodities in Tripoli.
"The NATO airstrikes and the sea embargo ... are badly influencing the lives of daily Libyans," he said. "We have some shortages in fuel, food and medicine. It makes it difficult to go to schools, hospitals and factories."
There was evidence of Tripoli's economic plight at its colorful Abu Salim market — the largest in the capital. While residents strolled through the displays of bejeweled robes and glittery shoes, traders said the number of customers had fallen drastically since the conflict began in mid-February.Comment on this story
"In normal times, you wouldn't have space to move," said a trader who requested anonymity, fearing disapproval from Libyan authorities.
The trader said fuel shortages, a slowdown of goods arriving by sea, and the dwindling value of the Libyan dinar had pushed up prices for many goods — more than doubling in some cases.
He said most of the customers in the bazaar were young women and their mothers, looking to buy new clothes — a tradition of brides before they marry. "They have no choice — they have to do it," he said.