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US to cede lead role in Libyan blitz

Nato was last night edging towards an agreement which could see the United States step back from command of the international military operations in Libya as soon as the weekend.

After six days of bad-tempered wrangling, it is understood a consensus is forming around a deal handing day-to-day responsibility for operations to Nato, while reserving decisions on political and military strategy to a steering group representing all countries involved in the coalition.

Turkey, which has been the main block to Nato taking over full command and control functions from the US, said the new structures could be in place “within one or two days”.

The state-run Anatolia News Agency quoted Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as saying: “All of Turkey's concerns on the issue have been met.”

The apparent breakthrough came after Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons he wanted to see operations moved from the command of the US to Nato “as quickly as possible”.

The developments came as it was revealed that a French fighter jet has destroyed a Libyan plane after it violated the no-fly zone over the country.

France's joint chiefs of staff said their surveillance aircraft noticed the Libyan combat plane flying near the coastal city of Misrata.

The French Rafale fighter jet |attacked with a guided air-to-ground missile after it landed at an air base.

The French attack came less than a day after a senior RAF commander claimed the allied forces had all but destroyed Gaddafi's air force.

While an assault by the Western forces had resulted in a pullback by regime tanks from Misrata, residents said regime forces returned on Wednesday night, laying siege to the hospital in the city, 130 miles east of Tripoli.

Residents said the armoured forces were periodically forced to pull back by air strikes but that these were not disrupting tanks already in the town.

While the air strikes continued — including in the area of Tripoli — anti-aircraft fire audible in the capital appeared to be at a lesser level than earlier in the week, raising the possibility that the batteries had been severely degraded.

The Pentagon said 350 aircraft — half of them American — were involved in operations over Libya last night.

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