Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi has responded to intensified NATO bombing of the Libyan capital by seeking sanctuary at night in hospitals he knows will not be bombed, according to a British official accompanying Prime Minister David Cameron to a summit meeting in Deauville, France. The official’s account of Colonel Qaddafi’s movements, given on a background basis to British reporters, was quoted in the Friday editions of at least two British newspapers, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph.
It was the first acknowledgment by a senior Western official that NATO planners had access to intelligence about Colonel Qaddafi’s movements. In the Guardian account, the official was quoted as saying that British intelligence had told Mr. Cameron that Colonel Qaddafi was “increasingly paranoid, on the run, and hiding in hospitals by night,” with senior Libyan military commanders unable to communicate with each other because of a concern that NATO can tap their phones. “There’s a consensus that we need to be turning the screw now, and that’s partly informed by our intelligence of what’s going on on the ground,” The Telegraph quoted the British official as saying. “One quite striking thing is the fact that Qaddafi appears to be moving from hospital to hospital. What he is doing is moving from one place we won’t bomb to another place we won’t bomb.” NATO has carried out 2,600 bombing sorties over the past two months, which reached a new peak in Tripoli early Tuesday when, according to NATO officials, 28 bunker-busting bombs were dropped on Colonel Qaddafi’s compound. The Guardian quoted the official as saying that the sense that the Libyan leader has been rattled by the bombing is one of the reasons that Mr. Cameron and the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, have approved the deployment of attack helicopters as part of the NATO air campaign. British officials have said that adding British Apaches and French Tiger helicopters equipped with powerful missiles will allow for low-level, pinpoint attacks on urban targets, including Libyan officials. Libyan officials have complained repeatedly in recent days that NATO is trying to “assassinate” Colonel Qaddafi. They say the attempts to kill him are illegal under the terms of the United Nations Security Council resolution adopted two months ago that approved the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya and the use of “all necessary means” to protect Libyan civilians from attack by the Qaddafi forces. In a move that appeared to have been prompted by the strains that the bombing is imposing, the Libyan prime minister, Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, held a news conference in Tripoli on Thursday to renew calls for a cease-fire, to be followed by talks involving the government, the rebels and other Libyan groups, including tribal leaders. But Mr. Mahmoudi said that Colonel Qaddafi’s leadership of Libya was not negotiable. “There are redlines we cannot go beyond,” he said.