TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) - In a one-two punch against Moammar Gadhafi's forces, NATO warplanes struck a command center in the capital, Tripoli, on Tuesday after pounding regime targets around the besieged port of Misrata. Rebels hoped the stepped-up attacks could help extend some of their biggest advances to date, including a major outward push from Misrata.
The opposition also said it made gains along a long-deadlocked front near the eastern town of Ajdabiya.
Gadhafi, Libya's autocratic ruler since 1969, has not been seen in public since one of his sons was killed in a NATO airstrike April 30. A NATO official, Italian Brig. Gen. Claudio Gabellini, said the alliance had no evidence to indicate whether Gadhafi was alive or dead.
The rebels' military spokesman, Col. Ahmed Bani, said opposition forces had pushed Gadhafi's troops out of rocket range on the west side of Misrata and dislodged them from the airport after two days of battles, raising the prospect that the siege could be broken.
Bani said rebels from Misrata and Zlitan, 35 miles west, had joined up to fight in close-range combat that rendered the regime forces' long-range rockets useless. Speaking to The Associated Press in the rebel headquarters city of Benghazi, Bani said Gadhafi's brigades were pushed about 10 miles back from Misrata's airport.
"The picture is looking good for us," he said.
In another boost to the opposition, the U.S. State Department said the first load of non-lethal American military aid for the rebels landed Tuesday at the port in their headquarters city, Benghazi.
Spokesman Mark Toner said the shipment consisted of more than 10,000 meals, with further shipments of medical supplies, boots and protective gear to arrive shortly. The delivery came ahead of planned meetings in Washington this week between U.S. officials and the head of the opposition Transitional National Council.
The Libyan conflict, dating to mid-February, had seemed stalemated for more than a week, with most of the fighting along the border with Tunisia in the far west. The latest airstrikes and overland advances may give the rebels new momentum in their struggle to topple Gadhafi and win greater freedoms.
The rebels control most of eastern Libya, and Gadhafi most of the west, including Tripoli. Exceptions in the west include pockets of embattled rebel-held towns along the border with Tunisia, and Misrata on the coast.
The NATO planes struck what the alliance called a command and control facility in downtown Tripoli early Tuesday, according to Gabellini.
"All NATO targets are military targets," said Gabellini, who serves on NATO's planning staff at the headquarters in Naples.