LONDON – British Tornado jets fired cruise missiles overnight at a bunker in deposed Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi's home town of Sirte, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) said on Friday.
Rebels said the strikes were aimed at ammunition stores and depots for scud missiles and hoped they would encourage opposition supporters in the town.
"At around midnight, a formation of Tornado GR4s…fired a salvo of Storm Shadow precision guided missiles against a large headquarters bunker in Sirte," the MoD said in a statement.
British Defense Secretary Liam Fox however denied NATO was targeting Qadhafi.
"It's not a question of finding Qadhafi, it's ensuring the regime does not have the capability to continue waging war against its own people," he told the BBC.
"The attack that we launched on the bunker in Sirte last night was to make sure that there was no alternative command and control should the regime try to leave Tripoli."
The Storm Shadow missile is a long-range weapon optimized for use against hardened targets such as bunkers and command and control centers.
Rebel military spokesman Ahmed Bani Said he hoped the Sirte attacks would give heart to local opponents of Gaddafi.
"Maybe this will help them. Maybe this will make the force there leave. Maybe the mercenaries will run away," Bani told Reuters.
The rebels say Qadhafi forces include many mercenaries from Chad and other African countries.
"After this bombing, maybe the people there will try to rise up," Bani said.
The rebels are approaching Sirte from both the east and west, hoping to force Qadhafi's fighters to flee to the south for a final showdown, perhaps in the desert town of Sabha, another bastion of Qadhafi support where many members of his tribe live.
But the rebels also hope Qadhafi's loyalists in the town will give up without a fight and they have been trying to negotiate a solution.
The MoD said the Tornados earlier destroyed one of Qadhafi's few remaining long-range surface to air missile systems, near al-Watiyah, close to the Tunisian border.
British jets also destroyed a command and control node that remained in former regime hands on the road south from Tripoli to the International Airport, it added.