Moammar Gadhafi's forces shelled a rebel town and a key supply route Wednesday, part of a push to crush stubborn resistance in the mountains of western Libya, while France said international military intervention in the country must end as quickly as possible.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe also said it's not the aim of the international bombing campaign in Libya to kill Gadhafi. He spoke after a NATO air strike over the weekend destroyed most of Gadhafi's family compound, prompting Libyan accusations that the alliance is trying to assassinate Gadhafi.
Libyan officials said Gadhafi was in the targeted building and survived unharmed, while one of his sons and three grandchildren were killed. The Libyan leader has not made a public appearance since then, but CIA director Leon Panetta told the U.S. TV network NBC on Tuesday that he believes Gadhafi is still alive.
The international community stepped into the fighting in Libya in mid-March, a month after Gadhafi tried to crush an uprising against him. The rebels now control much of the east, while Gadhafi holds most of the west of the country.
NATO bombing raids have largely blocked Gadhafi's troops from advancing eastward, and the heaviest battles are being fought in the west where rebels are holding positions in the coastal city of Misrata and in the Nafusa mountain range on the border.
Regime loyalists fired about 40 Grad rockets at the town of Zintan in the mountainous region home to Libya's ethnic Berber community, late Tuesday and early Wednesday, said Khaled Aburaqiqa, a spokesman for the community.
No one was hurt by the shelling, but six people from Zintan were killed in fighting on Monday and Tuesday, he said, adding that nearly 100 people have been killed in Zintan, a town of about 45,000, since it rose up against Gadhafi at the start of the revolt.
Supplies reach Zintan only intermittently, depending on when rebel fighters are able to push Gadhafi's forces back long enough to allow shipments to come in, Aburaqiqa said. So far, however, people are not going hungry and are surviving on stables, but there is a shortage of medical supplies, including surgical equipment.
Last month, rebel fighters in the area scored a breakthrough when they managed to take control of the Dhuheiba crossing between Libya and Tunisia. The crossing serves as a key supply route, but the road from the crossing to the Nafusa mountain area has repeatedly been shelled by Gadhafi's forces, including on Wednesday, the spokesman said.
In the other main area of resistance in western Libya, the port city of Misrata, an aid ship was guided into the harbor by a tug boat Wednesday to avoid hitting possible sea mines.
The Red Star One had waited off Misrata for several days, for fear of mines, said Jumbe Omari Jumbe, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration. The ship is meant to deliver basic supplies and evacuate some 1,000 migrants and wounded civilians from the city. Two seriously ill civilians died earlier this week while IOM was waiting for permission from NATO and Libyan authorities to dock the ship in Misrata, Jumbe said.
Misrata has been under siege by land for more than two months, and Libya's deputy foreign minister, Khaled Kaim, confirmed late Tuesday the regime is trying to cut off its access to the sea as well - its final lifeline.
"There was an announcement from the Libyan government, the Ministry of Transportation, that Misrata port is closed and that any foreign ship or vessel would be targeted by the Libyan armed forces," Kaim said when asked about attempts by the regime on Friday to lay anti-ship mines along the access route to Misrata's port.
Two of the mines were destroyed, but a third floated away, and NATO vessels have been searching for it. The attempted mining has disrupted the delivery of desperately needed supplies to Misrata, a city of 300,000.
The fighting in Libya has largely been locked in a stalemate. NATO commanders have said they have made good progress in eroding the Gadhafi's military capabilities, but leading French and Italian politicians said this week that the international involvement should not be open-ended.
Juppe, the French foreign minister, said military intervention must end as quickly as possible. The international mission's goal "is not to kill Gadhafi, that is clear, our goal is to take away his means of continuing his repression against the civilian population."
Juppe spoke on France 24 TV Wednesday on the eve of an international conference in Rome for countries involved in the Libya campaign, aimed in part at drumming up financial support for the rebels.
On Tuesday, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Italy would seek an end date for NATO's Libya operations, as Premier Silvio Berlusconi sought to placate a key government partner opposed to Italian participation in bombing missions.
Government officials quickly offered reassurances that Italy was fully committed to its role in the NATO operation. They suggested Frattini's comments reflected a reality that allies eventually need to discuss mission sustainability.
Associated Press writer Greg Keller in Paris contributed reporting.