Libyan rebels drove Libyan strongman Moammar Qadaffi forces out of the western port city of Misrata on Thursday, the Associated Press reports.

The airport in Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city, fell to rebel fighters Wednesday after long and intense fighting, an AFP correspondent said.

Misrata had been under desperate siege by Qaddafi forces for almost two months.

By Wednesday afternoon, rebels were in full control, sparking celebrations which continued through the night. Tanks left behind by Qaddafi troops were set ablaze.

Salah Badi, who commanded the assault on the airport, told reporters rebel fighters were now only 10 kilometers away from Zliten to the west and that, after resting, they would attempt to press forward.

The airport’s capture is significant as the rebel-held city had been largely cut off from the outside world. Its port, which has been repeatedly shelled, has been the only route in or out.

Human rights groups had previously warned of a looming humanitarian catastrophe in the city of 500,000 people, which faces acute shortages of food and medical supplies. Qaddafi earlier refused a cease-fire around Misrata to allow the civilian population to be relieved.

The AFP reported the airport had been “completely destroyed” and that fires were burning around it.

Map Source: Wiklmedia Commons

NATO Continues Airstrikes
Four explosions rocked Tripoli early Thursday as jets were heard flying overhead.

The blasts, in the Bab al-Aziziya area where Qaddafi’s compound is located, shook the windows of a hotel where journalists are staying in the capital.

Two plumes of white smoke could be seen rising above the city following the blasts, as emergency vehicle sirens wailed and sporadic gunfire rang out.

The strikes took place a few short hours after Libyan state TV late Wednesday showed footage it said was of Qaddafi meeting with tribal leaders. It was the first new video of Qaddafi since an April 30 air strike the regime termed an attempt on his life.

The regime said that strike killed his son, Seif al-Arab, and three of his grandchildren, in “a direct operation to assassinate the leader of this country.”

An international coalition enforcing the UN sanctioned no-fly zone over Libya has been active since March 19. NATO took command of operations over Libya on March 31.

The international mandate does not extend to strikes on Qaddafi's ground forces or compounds, but NATO members, whose political leaders are backing the rebels, see them as critical if the rebels are to succeed.