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Adm. Veri said NATO was prepared to board any suspect ships that don’t submit voluntarily to inspections.

“If they should find resistance, the use of force is necessary,” he said, noting that the U.N. Security Council had mandated all means necessary to enforce the embargo.

Coalition bombers and ships continued to strike at Gadhafi positions, including artillery, tanks, an ammunition bunker and a small number of helicopters as they sat on an airfield along the coast, a U.S. defense official said Thursday on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

More than a dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from U.S. and British ships in the Mediterranean Sea late Wednesday and early Thursday, their targets including Col. Gadhafi’s air defense missile sites in Tripoli and south of the capital. Other attacks were launched against an ammunition bunker near Misrata and forces south of Benghazi, the official said.

The U.N. Security Council authorized the embargo and no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians after Col. Gadhafi launched attacks against anti-government protesters who wanted him to leave after 42 years in power. But rebel advances have foundered, and the two sides have been at stalemate in key cities such as Misrata and Ajdabiya, the gateway to the opposition’s eastern stronghold.

Ajdabiya has been under siege for more than a week, with the rebels holding the city center but facing relentless shelling from government troops positioned on the outskirts.

Residents fleeing the violence said the situation inside the city has deteriorated in recent days. Two airstrikes targeted the area early Thursday, said a rebel, Taha el-Hassadi.

Mohammed Ali, 56, who fled with his family in a station wagon said: “They’ve cut everything — the electricity, the water. It’s getting worse and worse inside.”

Government troops also continued barraging the western city of Misrata on Thursday but were forced to roll back their tanks periodically amid coalition airstrikes.

A 42-year-old doctor in the city said shelling had damaged a mosque and a hotel near the hospital.

“When the allies’ planes were seen flying in the sky, the shelling stopped and the tanks fled,” he said. “We still have to deal with snipers in the main street in Misrata and try to warn people to stay away from it.”

Maggie Michael reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Paris; Pauline Jelinek and Robert Burns in Washington; Nicole Winfield in Rome; and Martin Vogl in Bamako, Mali, contributed to this report.