NATO attacked the ships in Tripoli, Al-Khums and Sirte after it was apparent that Gadhafi’s forces were increasingly using naval vessels to launch attacks on civilians, said Mike Bracken, NATO’s military spokesman. He said Gadhafi was indiscriminately mining waters in Misrata and hampering the flow of humanitarian aid.
“He was using maritime forces to lay mines. These were legal targets,” Bracken said at a briefing in Brussels, Belgium.
He didn’t say whether crew members were aboard when the ships were hit.
Bracken said the NATO campaign is progressing and Gadhafi’s combat power had been severely curtailed.
But the Libyan leader’s forces continued their heavy shelling of Dehiba, on the Tunisian border, where thousands of refugees have amassed in recent weeks. The border crossing, through which humanitarian aid is often trucked in, was closed Friday.
Earlier in the week, rebel forces in the Nafusa Mountains of western Libya were under heavy attack that they issued contact for help, the National Transitional Council in Benghazi said.
They were faring better along southern borders, according to a report by the International Medical Corps, which has teams in various locations in Libya and Tunisia. The report said rebels gained control of the border crossings between Libya and Sudan, and Libya and Chad, and regained control of Kufra in the southeast.
The global medical organization said rebel control along the Chad border was significant because of material supplies that flow through there to Gadhafi’s forces.
“While control of the border will be difficult, the rebels are reported to have a large force in the region,” it said. “The Niger and Morocco border crossings remain under Gadhafi control.”
The International Medical Corps also reported constant shelling by pro-Gadhafi forces in Zintan, where at least one person was killed and six were brought to hospitals. The group also reported heavy fighting in the besieged city of Yefren, where the group said the situation was deteriorating with food and medical supplies in short supply.
Meanwhile, the African Union announced it would hold a two-day meeting of heads of state in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa next week to address the conflict in Libya, as well as other security issues in Africa.
In other development, the family of South African freelance photojournalist Anton Hammerl, whose been missing in Libya since April, said late Thursday they now believe he was killed by Libyan government forces.
The statement was posted on the “Free photographer Anton Hammerl” Facebook page and follows interviews given in The New York Times, Global Post and The Atlantic by two journalists who say they were with him at the time he was shot.
“On 5 April 2011, Anton was shot by Gaddafi’s forces in an extremely remote location in the Libyan desert. According to eyewitnesses, Antons injuries were such that he could not have survived without medical attention,” according to the Facebook statement.
Hammerl was last reportedly seen in a remote region of the Libyan desert. He was reportedly captured by Gadhafi’s forces near the town of al-Brega, a key oil town in eastern Libya, that has been the site of intense battles.
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