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 capital and ambulances raced through the city as the last missile exploded.
Government officials and state-run Libyan television said the strikes targeted Bab al-Azaziya, Gadhafi's compound, but did not specify which buildings were hit. Reporters who were taken there later Thursday saw one missile-damaged building, and evidence that at least three missiles had hit the compound.
NATO — which had no immediate comment on the latest strikes — has hit Tripoli repeatedly this week as part of its effort to weaken the regime's resistance to a 3-month-old rebellion. NATO said most of the alliance's 46 air strikes on Wednesday were concentrated in and around the Libyan capital, hitting command and control centers, ammunition dumps and anti-aircraft missile launchers.
In the eastern city of Benghazi, headquarters for the opposition movement, rebel spokesman Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga claimed that anti-Gadhafi residents in the Tripoli area were staging peaceful demonstrations in many neighborhoods, prompting the regime to deploy troops and tanks in the streets that may have been diverted from other regions.
Ghoga, who did not specify the source of his information, said anti-Gadhafi militants had burned a police station in one suburb, and were setting up night patrols and checkpoints in other neighborhoods. There was no immediate independent confirmation of his claims; the foreign journalists in Tripoli are assigned government minders and limited in their movements.
After the early-morning airstrikes, medics arrived at Khadra Hospital with the bodies of two men they said were killed in the attack. One of bodies was charred; the other was covered by a green blanket, a 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 been a frequent site of recent airstrikes, including one on April 30 that killed the leader's son, Seif al-Arab. Officials said Gadhafi — Libya's autocratic leader for 42 years — was in the compound when that strike occurred but escaped unharmed.
NATO has repeatedly said all its targets in Libya are military and that it is not targeting Gadhafi or other individuals.
Gadhafi had seven sons and one daughter. He also had an adopted daughter who was killed in 1986 when a U.S. airstrike hit the Bab al-Aziziya residential compound in retaliation for a bombing attack on a German disco in which two U.S. servicemen were killed..
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 previously was April 9, when he visited a school in Tripoli.
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, 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 relinquish power.
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