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Airstrikes pound Tripoli as NATO escalates Libya campaign

An increase in NATO strikes along with British and French commitment to deploy attack helicopters may be aimed at breaking a stalemate in the conflict.

Sky over Tripoli, Libya, is illuminated by explosions during an airstrike, early Tuesday, May 24. NATO warplanes were repeatedly hitting Tripoli early Tuesday in what appears to be the heaviest night of bombing of the Libyan capital since the start of the air campaign against Muammar Qaddafi's forces.

Darko Bandic/AP

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The Libyan capital withstood the heaviest bombardment yet from NATO aircraft early Tuesday morning, as explosions rocked the area around Col. Muammar Qaddafi's compound.

The strikes – combined with a fresh commitment by Britain and France to deploy highly precise attack helicopters in Libya – appeared to signal a NATO escalation to break the current stalemate, if not actually target the Libyan leader.

"I think it is an absolute sign of [NATO] intensification, soon after the announcement of new military helicopters to be deployed," says an opposition activist in the capital, where some 20 thunderous blasts came in 30 minutes. "This sends a message that the focus is on the regime stronghold. This suggests that [NATO] really wants to decapitate this killing machine, rather than eat away at it."

NATO said it was targeting a facility adjacent to Col. Qaddafi's compound for vehicles that were "active" in resupplying pro-Qaddafi forces that mounted "attacks against innocent civilians." The Western military alliance, which took the lead from US military planners soon after a mid-March UN Security Council resolution authorized "all necessary means" to protect civilians, says it is not targeting individuals.

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