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Libyan officials on Monday showed journalists assault rifles and ammunition they claimed had been shipped to rebels by the wealthy Gulf Arab state of Qatar.

NATO late last week announced it had begun ramping up its airstrikes on military targets in the western part of Libya. It said it is targeting government forces in cities and along “major lines of communication.”

Bracken, the NATO spokesman, said military operations have been running continuously over the past day in the Nafusa mountains southwest of Tripoli.

“We have seen NATO round-the-clock operations resulting in the removal of more than 60 targets” in and around the mountains, Bracken said.

He said another 18 targets, including a tunnel complex used to resupply government troops, were hit in the vicinity of Gharyan, a gateway city to the mountains about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of the capital.

A string of victories by relatively small bands of mountain rebels has left them in control of most of the mountain range, bringing them within about 100 miles (160 kilometers) of Tripoli. The advances have energized a rebel campaign that is largely deadlocked on fronts east of the capital.

In Rome, Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said the country, Libya’s former colonial ruler, is cutting back its participation in NATO’s campaign by removing an aircraft carrier from the region and pulling thousands of troops home.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi is under pressure from his key ally the Northern League, which has opposed the war because of the cost and fears of an influx of migrants. After a Cabinet meeting Thursday, Berlusconi said he had always been against the war but had his “hands tied” once the U.N. authorized a no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians.

Also Thursday, one rebel fighter was killed in shelling by government forces west of the rebel-held city of Misrata, Abdel-Wahab Mletan of the city’s media committee told The Associated Press.

The shelling took place in Dafiniya, a semi-rural area west of Misrata, 140 miles west of Tripoli. Eighteen rebel fighters were killed in heavy government shelling in the same area Wednesday.


Associated Press writers Slobodan Lekic in Brussels and Ben Hubbard in Cairo contributed reporting.