TRIPOLI, Libya – Low-flying NATO military craft unleashed a ferocious series of nearly 30 daytime airstrikes on Tripoli, rattling the Libyan capital Tuesday and sending plumes of smoke billowing above leader Moammar Gadhafi's compound.
Reporters counted at least 27 strikes by mid-afternoon, and Libyan television said several structures in the Gadhafi compound were badly damaged. Daylight NATO raids have been rare and signal an intensification of the alliance bid to drive Gadhafi from power.
There were no immediate reports about casualties.
NATO officials have warned for days that they were increasing the scope and intensity of their two-month campaign to oust Gadhafi after more than 40 years in power. The alliance is assisting a four-month old rebel insurgency that has seized swaths of eastern Libya and pockets in the regime's stronghold in the west.
Ambulances, sirens blaring, could be heard racing through the city during the daylong raids that shook the ground and sent thundering sound waves across the capital. Some of the strikes were believed to have targeted a military barracks near Gadhafi's sprawling central Tripoli compound, said spokesman Moussa Ibrahim. Others hit the compound itself, Libyan television reported. Pro-Gadhafi loyalists in the capital fired weapons into the air but after the NATO strikes had ended.
"Instead of talking to us, they are bombing us. They are going mad. They are losing their heads," said Ibrahim.
The spokesman said the daylight strikes were particularly terrifying because families were separated during the day. Libyan school children are taking final exams at the end of the school year.
"Tens of thousands of children are in Tripoli. You can imagine the shock and horror of the children. You can imagine the horror of parents who can't check on their children who are far away," Ibrahim said.
The strikes began at around 11:30am local time and continued through the day. Some landed in clusters of two and three booming explosions.
Ibarahim said the barracks likely hit Tuesday have been repeated targets of NATO. Libyan television later reported other strikes hit the sprawling compound itself. It gave few details. The compound hosts homes, guest houses, large grassy knolls and a camp ground where pro-Gadhafi loyalists sleep. The television said nearby homes were also damaged, along with some infrastructure.
NATO strikes before dawn Monday targeted a building of the state-run Libyan television station, he said, reporting that 16 people were injured. The building was only partially destroyed and Libyan television is still broadcasting.
As NATO intensifies air attacks on Tripoli, there appears to be renewed diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful end to the civil war.
A U.N. envoy was expected in the country Tuesday. Ibrahim would not say who envoy Abdul-Elah al-Khatib would meet, or how long he would stay.
So far diplomacy has failed, given that rebels are demanding Gadhafi leave power. The dictator steadfastly refuses to cede power.
Also Tuesday, Tripoli dispatched Foreign Minister Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi to Beijing for a three days of talks, an apparent effort to restore some of Libyan government influence and defuse a setback delivered by China last week. Chinese officials announced on Friday that they had reached out to the rebel forces challenging Gadhafi, a significant effort to boost Chinese engagement in the Libya conflict and possibly jostle for a mediator role.
Beijing had stayed on the sidelines for the first few months since the revolt against Gadhafi's government erupted in mid-February, pointedly avoiding joining international calls for Gadhafi to step down and saying that is for the Libyan people to decide. China also abstained in the U.N. Security Council vote authorizing the use of force against Libyan government loyalists and has repeatedly criticized the NATO bombing campaign in support of the rebels.
But last week, Beijing said the head of Libya's rebel council met with China's ambassador to Qatar in Doha, in what was the first known contact between the two sides. China's decision to engage the rebels was a diplomatic setback for Gadhafi.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a regular briefing Tuesday that talks with al-Obeidi would focus on the need for a political solution to the Libyan crisis.
He also reiterated China's appeals for an immediate cease-fire and called on all parties to "fully consider the mediation proposals put forward by the international community so as to defuse the tensions as soon as possible."
In Benghazi on Tuesday, a Russian delegation met with the rebel's National Transitional Council which controls the city and Eastern Libya.
Special representative for Africa Mikhail Margelov said that Gadhafi had lost his legitimacy but that NATO airstrikes were not a solution to the stalemate in Libya.
"As long as bloodshed continues the more difficult it will be to build a national reconciliation process after the civil war," Margelov told reporters Tuesday.
Margevlov left Benghazi for Cairo, the Interfax news agency reported, addint that the rebels said they supported Russia's mediation with Tripoli. The envoy did not, however, have plans to go to Tripoli.
Russia, along with China, abstained in the U.N. Security Council vote authorizing the use of force against Libyan government loyalists and has repeatedly criticized the NATO bombing campaign in support of the rebels.
The revolt against Gadhafi followed popular uprisings that overturned the longtime rulers of Tunisia and Egypt. A coalition of rebels seized control of much of eastern Libya and set up an administration based in the eastern city of Benghazi. As the conflict escalated, it grew beyond an insurrection by a small group and has now evolved into a civil war. The rebels, led by the National Transitional Council, are well in control of nearly a third of the inhabitable part of Libya the country.
Associated Press Writer Hadeel Al-Shalchi in Benghazi and Gillian Wong in Beijing contributed to this report.