Image: A truck, damaged by coalition air strikes last night according to the Libyan government, is seen in Tripoli
Ahmed Jadallah  /  Reuters
EDITOR'S NOTE: PICTURE TAKEN ON A GUIDED GOVERNMENT TOUR A truck, damaged by coalition air strikes last night according to the Libyan government, is seen in Tripoli on Wednesday.
NBC News and news services
updated 6/7/2011 9:21:24 PM ET 2011-06-08T01:21:24

NATO continued its barrage of Tripoli early Wednesday, hours after leader Moammar Gadhafi defiantly addressed the nation in the wake of the Western alliance's most punishing airstrikes.

"We will not kneel!" he shouted in a fiery audio commentary on national TV in which he also urged supporters to rally at his compound.

Some 10 explosions shook the Libyan capital the morning after at least 40 thunderous daylight attacks that sent plumes of smoke billowing above the Libyan leader's central Tripoli compound.

"We only have one choice: We will stay in our land dead or alive,'' Gadhafi said. "Death, victory, it does not matter, we are not surrendering!" he shouted.

"We are stronger than your weapons, than your planes. The voices of the Libyan people are stronger than the sounds of explosions," he said, angrily calling the rebels who have risen up against him "bastards."

Minutes after he spoke, another explosion shook the capital as NATO apparently launched another strike. Pro-Gadhafi loyalists also fired a round of celebratory gunfire after his speech, which lasted at least six minutes.

Libyan state television later showed images of what it said was a Tuesday meeting between Gadhafi and tribal leaders at an unidentified location. The Libyan leader, wearing dark glasses and traditional robes, was greeting the leaders in a small room without windows.

Alliance officials warned for days that they were increasing the scope and intensity of their air campaign to oust Gadhafi after more than 40 years in power. NATO is backing the rebel insurgency, which has seized swaths of eastern Libya and pockets in the regime's stronghold in the west since it began in February, inspired by uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world.

Some 6,850 people, nearly all of them Libyans, have streamed across the border from Libya to Tunisia since Monday to flee the NATO raids as well as fighting between the rebels and government forces, according to the Tunisian Defense Ministry.

It couldn't be confirmed whether Gadhafi's some 10-minute speech was a live phone call or an audio recording, but it appeared to take state television by surprise. The sound was hastily adjusted to make it louder

As Gadhafi spoke, the sound of low-flying military aircraft could be heard whooshing through Tripoli again and Gadhafi quickly hung up. Pro-Gadhafi loyalists also fired celebratory gunfire in the air.

Gadhafi has mostly been in hiding since NATO strikes in April targeted one of his homes. Libyan officials said one of his sons, Saif al-Arab, and three of his grandchildren were killed.

Gadhafi's last audio statement lasted less than a minute and was in mid-May. He was last seen in a brief glimpse of TV footage sitting with visiting South African President Jacob Zuma in late May.

Image: Libyan state TV shows leader Moammar Gadhafi greeting a tribal leader Tuesday in an unknown location
Reuters Tv  /  Reuters
Libyan state TV shows leader Moammar Gadhafi greeting a tribal leader Tuesday in an unknown location.

Libyan television said several structures in the Gadhafi compound were badly damaged. NBC News confirmed Gadhafi's compound had been hit, and reported that the military offered to take reporters to the scene to survey the damage. As bombs were still falling in the area, many declined the invitation.

At least one man was killed, officials said.

Daylight NATO raids have been rare and signal an intensification of the alliance bid to drive Gadhafi from power.

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.

"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 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.

Video: NATO now using attack helicopters in Libya (on this page)

'Gadhafi must step dowwn'
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama once again called on Gadhafi to step aside.

"Gadhafi must step down and hand power to the Libyan people, and the pressure will only continue to increase until he does," Obama said during a joint news conference in Washington with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is heading to the United Arab Emirates to confer with NATO nations and others prosecuting an air campaign in Libya to assess the effort to get Gadhafi to leave and increase support for the country's opposition.

Western reporters and a senior Libyan government official said the pounding airstrikes Tuesday easily outstripped the number of bombing runs on any day since the international air campaign began in mid-March.

Ibrahim claimed some 31 people were killed in 60 NATO strikes on Tripoli. Previous government tolls have proven to be exaggerated.

Dead man seen
Reporters, who face tight restrictions in the Libyan capital, saw only one dead man during a visit to Gadhafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound.

The dust-covered bloodied man was draped around a cement column at one of the crushed compound buildings. He was seen on a government-escorted tour of bombed sites.

The boot and legs of the man, identified as Misbah Hussein, in his forties, stuck out from beneath a pile of twisted metal close to the remains of a building just inside the eastern entrance of the Gadhafi compound.

As his comrades realized what they were staring at, they rushed toward him, their arms raised.

"Bring a blanket!" one shouted.

Story: Libyan woman who claimed rape leaves for US

They wrapped him in the closest thing they could find — a large green flag — green being the iconic color of the Gadhafi regime.

A soldier said eight strikes targeted the building, which he said was a guest house for visiting dignitaries.

Around him, one building was smashed into three hulking cement parts and the floor was strewn with small chunks of metal, foam and cement.

He said some two dozen soldiers and civilians were sitting near the building when it was hit. He would not be named, citing military regulations.

A strike smashed another nearby building that officials identified as a guest house. The ground was littered with small gray shards.

That was not far from a zone where pro-Gadhafi supporters have camped in tents for the past few weeks to act as human shields against NATO strikes. Ibrahim, the regime spokesman, said the attacks would spawn "generations of revenge."

NATO issued no immediate comment on battering it delivered over Tripoli.

Defections continue
Gadhafi's inner circle has been shaken by a wave of defections. A Libyan rebel diplomat in Geneva said Tuesday that the country's labor minister Al-Amin Manfour — who had been representing Libya at the International Labor Organization's annual meeting — has defected and joined the rebels.

Adel Shaltut said Tuesday that Manfour was on his way to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, in eastern Libya. Shaltut and other diplomats at Libya's mission to the United Nations in Geneva defected to the rebels in February.

Russia, meanwhile was renewing diplomatic efforts to end the civil war.

Mikhail Margelov, the Kremlin's special representative for Africa, said 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 during a visit to the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

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.

U.N. envoy Abdelilah Al-Khatib also arrived in Tripoli, Ibrahim said, without providing details. And Libya 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.

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.

The revolt against Gadhafi followed popular uprisings that overturned the longtime rulers of Tunisia and Egypt. As the conflict escalated, it grew beyond an insurrection by a small group and has now evolved into a civil war.

NBC News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Gadhafi digs in as NATO planes pound Libya

  1. Closed captioning of: Gadhafi digs in as NATO planes pound Libya

    >>> we turn overseas now. nato turned up the heat on libya today, unleashing a barrage of air strikes in the capital, tripoli . as the country's leader, moammar gadhafi , vowed once again to fight to the death. nbc's stephanie gosk is in tripoli now and joins us with the latest from there. stephanie, good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, lester. well, the minister of information said that this has been one of the most horrific days of attack against his nation. 31 people killed in 60 airstrikes. now, those numbers may be a bit exaggerated, but without a doubt this nato assault on this city today has been the largest so far. in broad daylight nato unleashed its biggest barrage yet. dozens of air strikes in central tripoli rocked the uneasy calm here. among the targets, colonel moammar gadhafi 's compound, nearly leveled in previous attacks. today nato planes returned to finish the job. state television was another target, hit in the early hours this morning. libyan officials say two people were killed and more than a dozen wounded. with air strikes still echoing around the city, state tv broadcast video of gadhafi meeting with tribal leaders. earlier in the day he phoned in, angry, calling the libyan rebels bastards, vowing to stay in tripoli dead or alive . "we will not surrender to nato ," he said. "being a martyr is a million times better." nato has been intensifying its operation across libya , hoping to push gadhafi out.

    >> gadhafi will fight to the end. and nato is making a big gamble by trying to kill gadhafi and the inner circle . really the situation now is beyond any kind of compromise.

    >> reporter: in washington preside presidenta, alongside german chancellor angela merkel , sounded optimistic.

    >> the progress that has been made in libya is significant, and i think it is just a matter of time before gadhafi goes.

    >> reporter: in a late-night press conference libyan officials had a different message.

    >> nato is going mad because it could feel the resilience of the libyan nation.

    >> reporter: on state tv gadhafi called for protests outside his now destroyed compound. fewer than 200 responded. a sign perhaps that the dictator's support as the bombs continue to drop might be slipping. we're hearing of a new defection. the minister of labor , who was attending a conference in geneva, has decided to join the rebels. he is just the latest official to abandon gadhafi 's ever-shrinking government here. lester?

Photos: Conflict in Libya, Week 15

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  1. Rebel fighters inspect a burning house in Yafran, about 60 miles southwest of the Libyan capital, on June 6. The rebels drove out Gadhafi forces there earlier in the day. (Youssef Boudlal / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A rebel fighter removes a Libyan flag from a house previously held by government forces in Yafran on June 6. (Youssef Boudlal / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. In this photo taken on a government organized tour, a Libyan official points at a girl identified by officials as "Haneen" while he speaks to the media in a hospital in Tripoli, Libya, on June 5. Libyan officials claimed on Sunday that the girl was injured during a NATO airstrike; however, a small note later passed by a medic to a foreign reporter claimed the child was actually injured in a road traffic accident. (Ivan Sekretarev / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A volunteer applies cement on the graves of soldiers loyal to Moammar Gadhafi, who have been buried at a cemetery in the west Libyan city of Misrata on June 5. Some 545 soldiers loyal to Gadhafi, who were killed in battles with rebel fighters, have been buried in Misrata according to Muslim rites since the start of the conflict. (Zohra Bensemra / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Volunteer Mohammed Ali, right, shows aspiring camerawoman Fatima Khaled, 22, how to operate the camera at the office of Libya Al-Hurra (Free Libya), a rebel television studio, in Misrata, on June 5. The television studio is made of up of volunteers. (Zohra Bensemra / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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    The body of a drowned refugee floats near a capsized ship that originated from Libya and which, according to the United Nations refugee agency, was transporting an estimated 850 refugees, approximately 22 miles north of the Tunisian islands of Kerkennah on Friday, June 4. The Geneva-based agency said Friday that at least 578 of the estimated 850 people on board, mostly from West Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh, survived the Wednesday sinking, making it one of the worst and deadliest incidents in the Mediterranean so far this year. (Lindsay Mackenzie / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. An ophthalmologist examines the eyes of a Libyan refugee in a makeshift hospital tent at a refugee camp in Tataouine on June 3. (Anis Mili / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Smoke billows from Tajura, a suburb of the Libyan capital Tripoli, after NATO warplanes launched intensive air raids on Tripoli and its eastern suburbs on June 4. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A Libyan rebel fighter prepares anti-aircraft ammunition as he wears the cap of a pro-Moammar Gadhafi officer at Misrata's western front line, some 16 miles from the city center, on June 4. (Zohra Bensemra / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Malak Al Shami, 6, who had a leg amputated after her house was hit by a rocket, jokes with nurses at a hospital in Misrata on June 3. Malak's house was hit by a rocket belonging to forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi on May 13. She lost her sister Rodaina, 1, and her brother Mohamed, 3, on the same day of the incident. (Zohra Bensemra / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A boy scout wears a traffic police uniform, as he directs traffic on a street in Benghazi on June 2. Boy scouts are volunteering for the job, as there has been a lack of traffic police officers since the political conflict in the country began. (Mohammed Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Libyans inspect the site of a blast in the parking lot of the Tibesti hotel, used by rebel leaders, diplomats and journalists, in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi on June 1. (Gianluigi Guercia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A rebel army officer teaches Libyan women the use of weapons in Benghazi on June 1. (Mohammed Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. A rebel fighter prepares tea on Misrata's western front line, some 16 miles from the city center on June 1. (Zohra Bensemra / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Mourners pray at the funeral of Libyan rebel fighter Osama Fathy Ashour, 29, who was killed during battles with forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi, in Misrata, on May 31. (Wissam Saleh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Medics carry an injured rebel fighter at a field hospital near Misrata's western front line, on May 31. (Zohra Bensemra / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Women mourn for their relative, a rebel fighter killed during a battle with forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi, during his funeral at Misrata's western front line on May 31. (Zohra Bensemra / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Libyan rebel fighters bathe in an outdoor spring in Misrata, Libya, on May 31. (Wissam Saleh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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