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NATO Says Precision Strikes Have Hit Libyan TV Transmitters

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July 29: Libyan men shoot in the air during the funeral of Libyan rebels' slain military chief Abdel-Fattah Younis in the rebel-held town of Benghazi, Libya. (AP)

NATO warplanes bombed three Libyan state TV satellite transmitters in Tripoli overnight, targeting facilities that have been used to incite violence and threaten civilians, the military alliance said Saturday.

A series of loud explosions echoed across the capital before dawn. There was no immediate comment from Libyan officials on what had been hit, but state TV was still on the air in Tripoli as of Saturday morning.

NATO said the airstrikes aimed to degrade Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi's "use of satellite television as a means to intimidate the Libyan people and incite acts of violence against them."

"Striking specifically these critical satellite dishes will reduce the regime's ability to oppress civilians while (preserving) television broadcast infrastructure that will be needed after the conflict," the alliance said in a statement posted on its website.

It called Qaddafi's TV broadcasts inflammatory and said they were intended to mobilize his supporters.

During the past 24 hours, alliance aircraft have also targeted military vehicles, radars, ammunition dumps, anti-aircraft guns and command centers near the front lines in the east and west, NATO said.

Libya's rebel movement, meanwhile, appeared to be in disarray after the mysterious death of their chief military commander. Abdel-Fattah Younis' body was found dumped outside the rebels' de facto capital of Benghazi on Thursday along with the bodies of two colonels who were his top aides. They had been shot and their bodies burned.

Witnesses have said they were killed by fellow rebels after being taken into custody on suspicion of treason.

The coalition of NATO members participating in the air campaign is also under strain as public opposition mounts in Europe to the costs of the mission -- estimated at more than a billion euros -- at a time of budget cuts and other austerity measures.

The United States was the first to limit its participation, deciding to only provide support to the European allies. Then Italy withdrew its only aircraft carrier and part of its air force contingent. Meanwhile, Norway has announced it will pull all of its F-16 warplanes out of the operation by Monday.

The other five nations taking part are Britain, France, Belgium, Denmark and Canada.

NATO has been increasingly embarrassed by the failure of the bombing campaign, now in its fifth month, to dislodge Qaddafi's regime. With the fasting month of Ramadan due to start in early August, there is a growing realization within the alliance that the costly campaign will drag on into the autumn and possibly longer.

NATO had hoped that a series of quick, sharp strikes would quickly force Qaddafi to give up power. The alliance has carried out about 6,500 strike sorties and a total of 17,000 sorties since March.

The only place where rebels have seen small advances lately is in the western Nafusa mountain range, where they have gradually pushed Qaddafi's forces out of a string of towns and villages, bringing them within about 60 miles of Tripoli.

In one sign that rebels were successfully holding onto territory in the mountains, families that had fled to Tunisia appeared to be confident enough to return to the area.

On Saturday, long lines formed at the Dhuheiba border crossing with Tunisia that enters the mountains, as families in pickup trucks laden with supplies returned home. Many were headed to Nalut, a town that Qaddafi's troops regularly shelled until rebels pushed them out earlier this week.

An official with the United Nations refugee agency, Lutfi ben Hamed, said about 2,000 people had entered Libya Friday, about double the daily number for the past month.

On Saturday, more than 100 cars waited on the Tunisian side to enter Libya. A similar number waited to enter Tunisia to pick up families and bring them home.

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