French jets destroy Libyan aircraft, target arms flow


French fighter jets struck an air base deep inside Libya and destroyed one of Muammar Gaddafi's planes Thursday, and NATO ships patrolled the coast to block the flow of arms and mercenaries. Other coalition bombers struck artillery, arms depots and parked helicopters.

Libyan state television on Thursday showed blackened and mangled bodies that it said were victims of airstrikes in Tripoli. Rebels have accused Gaddafi's forces of taking bodies from the morgue and pretending they are civilian casualties.

The international military operation against Gaddafi's forces may last days or weeks — but not months, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said. But the rebels who largely control Libya's east remain outgunned and disorganised — instead of handing out weapons at a checkpoint, they were distributing sneakers to would-be fighters on Thursday.

The French strikes overnight hit a base about 250 kilometres south of the Libyan coastline, French military spokesman Thierry Burkhard said in Paris on Thursday, without elaborating on the target or possible damage.

France's joint chiefs of staff, in a statement on their website, said French surveillance aircraft noticed a Libyan combat plane that was flying near Misrata in violation of the UN Security Council resolution. A French Rafale fighter jet fired a guided air-to-ground missile on the Libyan jet after it landed at the Misrata air base.

In Tripoli, Libyan deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim said the "military compound at Juffra" was among the targets hit before dawn. Juffra is one of the air bases deep in Libya's interior, on main routes leading from neighbouring countries in the Sahara region that have supplied arms and fighters to the Gaddafi regime.

Abdel Rahman Barkuli, a Libyan in exile originally from Sabha, said he spoke to residents in Sabha who reported several airstrikes before dawn: two targeted radars and one targeted a military camp.

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