NATO strikes command center at Gadhafi compound

NATO warplanes struck Moammar Gadhafi's compound in Tripoli on Saturday, as the new rebel administration warned it was fast running out of money because countries that promised financial aid have not come through.

Ali Tarhouni, the rebel finance minister, complained that many countries that pledged aid have instead sent a string of businessmen looking for contracts from the oil-rich country.

"They are very vocal in terms of (offering financial) help but all that we have seen is that they are ... looking for business," Tarhouni told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Tarhouni recently returned to Benghazi, the rebel bastion, from a trip overseas to drum up aid that included a visit to Rome where the 22-nation Contract Group on Libya promised to set up a fund to speedily help finance the rebel administration.

"I think even our friends do not understand the urgency of the situation. Either they don't understand, or they don't care," Tarhouni said.

Tarhouni singled out Qatar and Kuwait for their "generous, very generous help." He did not specify the aid these countries have offered, but Qatar has sent fighter jets, airplanes full of food and medical aid as well as helping the rebels market their oil.

Tarhouni also praised France, which was the driving force behind the U.N. no-fly zone. But "other than that, everybody is just talking," he said. "So far, nothing has come through and I am fast running out of cash."

Tarhouni emphasized that the rebels' National Transitional Council will be signing no long-term contracts. While the rebel administration will honor previously signed contracts, Tarhouni indicated a new democratically elected government might do otherwise.

"Right now, I am not going to sign any contract that has any consequences for the future of Libya, with the exception of what I need in terms of food, medicine, fuel," he said.

Before the conflict, Libya, an OPEC member, produced about 1.6 million barrels per day, just under 2 percent of world production.

Meanwhile, nearly two dozen Libyan soldiers, including a colonel and other officers, fled their country in two small boats and took refuge in neighboring Tunisia, where thousands fleeing the fighting in Libya have taken refuge.

A person who met with some of them says they fled rebel-held Misrata, arriving at Ketf port, near Ben Guerdane, on the Tunisian side of the border. The person who met with them Saturday asked to remain anonymous for security reasons. The group turned over their weapons to the Tunisian Army.

The official TAP news agency said 22 military, some ranking officers, arrived Friday in boats carrying a dozen civilians, two with bullet wounds.

Three dissident officers from Moammar Gadhafi's army reached Tunisia in a boat May 15.

Also Saturday, an alliance spokesman said NATO fighter jets struck Gadhafi's Bab al-Aziziyah compound in Tripoli in the early hours Saturday. He said the Libyan leader was not a target and there was no way to know if he was there at the time of the attack.

The spokesman said that around noon a vehicle storage area in the same area was hit.

The strike sent a shuddering boom through Tripoli and rattled windows. Such a daylight attack is fairly unusual since NATO began its aerial attacks over Libya three months ago.

Airstrikes over the past week have pounded the large barracks area that lies close to the Gadhafi compound. The same compound was badly damaged by U.S. warplanes 25 years ago in response to a bombing that had killed two U.S. servicemen at a German disco.

Saturday's airstrike came after leaders at a summit of the Group of Eight world powers reiterated that Gadhafi had to leave power.

Russia, a leading critic of the NATO bombing campaign and one-time Gadhafi ally offered to mediate a deal for the Libyan leader to leave the country.

Speaking at the summit in Deauville, France, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, said Friday he was sending an envoy to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi immediately to start negotiating, and that talks with the Libyan government could take place later.

National Transitional Council head Mustafa Abdul-Jalil said Saturday the rebels would accept negotiations led by anyone willing to find a solution — as long as it requires the departure of Gadhafi and his sons.

Speaking to reporters in Benghazi, Abdul-Jalil said the transition to democracy would take at most one year after Gadhafi's removal from power. He also said the council had decided to ban all current members "from running for any positions in the transitional period following the fall of Gadhafi."


Faul reported from Benghazi. Bouazza Ben Bouazza contributed from Tunis, Tunisia.