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Libyan command 'legitimate target'

The command and control of Libyan regime forces are a legitimate target for Nato air strikes, Defence Secretary Liam Fox insisted, amid claims of a bid to assassinate Muammar Gaddafi.

A building in the dictator's compound was hit on Monday in what the regime said was a failed attempt on the Libyan leader's life and which Russian president Vladimir Putin said was part of an execution plan.

US defence secretary Robert Gates - speaking on Tuesday night after talks with Dr Fox at the Pentagon - insisted that the United Nations-backed coalition was "not targeting him (Gaddafi) specifically".

But Dr Fox made clear that all regime command and control "mechanisms" were targets and that the strikes were a clear message to Gaddafi that he could not wage the campaign "at arm's length".

The United Nations Security Council approved the use of "all necessary measures" to protect civilians short of an occupation force in a very open-ended resolution.

David Cameron sparked concern about mission creep when he made a joint declaration with his US and French counterparts that the mission would continue until Gaddafi was gone.

Dr Fox raised fresh questions about targeting when he said those operating command facilities should "recognise the risks they would have if they were there during Nato strikes".

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said the comments were "inflammatory" and demanded clarification as to whether it meant Gaddafi was being targeted for assassination.

"People ask...have we taken a side? And the answer is yes, we have taken the side of the civilian population," Dr Fox told reporters after his talks at the Pentagon.

"That is what the United Nations Security Council resolution has asked us to do."

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