Mortars pound Misrata; West talks of tougher action

Libyan government troops pounded the besieged rebel-held city of Misrata, undeterred by Western threats to step up military action against Muammar Gaddafi's forces.

Mortar fire killed at least three rebels and wounded 17 in attacks on Tripoli Street early on Thursday, rebel spokesmen said. Fierce fighting erupted later in the day, with heavy machine gun fire resounding through the streets and the whole area overshadowed by a big plume of black smoke.

Amid streets carpeted with debris, rebels and loyalists are fighting a ferocious battle, often at close quarters. Streets are barricaded with orange dump trucks, parts of cars and even bedframes and tree trunks.

"Gaddafi's fighters taunt us. If they are in a nearby building they yell at us at night to scare us. They call us rats," said one rebel.

Libya's third largest city, the only rebel stronghold in the west of the country, has been under a punishing siege by Gaddafi's forces for seven weeks. Hundreds have died.

Libyan state television said NATO forces had struck the Khallat al-Farjan area of Tripoli, killing seven people and wounding 18 others. NATO said the target was a military command bunker and it had no indication of civilian casualties.

NATO forces later hit the town of Gharyan, south of Tripoli, killing or wounding several people, Libyan TV said. There was no no immediate NATO comment.

Canadian Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, commander of NATO's Libya operations, said civilians should keep away from Gaddafi's forces to avoid being hurt by NATO air attacks. That would allow NATO to strike with greater success, he said.

Another NATO official told Reuters on Thursday: "We want to maintain and increase pressure on the frontline units but the biggest risk in doing that is civilian casualties.

"More and more of Gaddafi's military equipment is being used closer to civilian-populated areas and closer to buildings, which makes targeting obviously difficult."

Nato "Has Failed"

Rebel fighters voiced frustration with an international military operation they see as too cautious.

"NATO has been inefficient in Misrata. NATO has completely failed to change things on the ground," rebel spokesman Abdelsalam said.

France said it would send up to 10 military advisers to Libya. Britain plans to dispatch up to a dozen officers to help rebels improve organisation and communications, and Italy is considering sending a small military training team.

Tripoli denounced such moves and some commentators warned of "mission creep", after assurances by Western leaders that they would not put "boots on the ground" in Libya.

Russia said the sending of advisers exceeded the U.N. Security Council mandate to protect civilians.

"We are not happy about the latest events in Libya, which are pulling the international community into a conflict on the ground. This may have unpredictable consequences," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

"We can remember how instructors were first sent to some other countries, and later soldiers were sent there and hundreds of people died on both sides."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has spearheaded U.N.-backed NATO intervention, pledged stronger military action at his first meeting with the leader of the opposition Libyan National Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, on Wednesday.

The French defence ministry said on Thursday it had increased the number of its air sorties in the past week to 41 from an average of 30 since the start of the operation.

French aircraft destroyed several military vehicles and tanks near Misrata in the past week and two missile sites and a communications centre in the Sirte region, it said.

Among the dead in Misrata were British photojournalist Tim Hetherington, co-director of Oscar-nominated war documentary "Restrepo", and American photographer Chris Hondros, killed when a group they were in came under fire.

Spanish photojournalist Guillermo Cervera said the group had been returning from Tripoli Street when there was an explosion.

"It hit the group," he said. "They were all on the floor."

A Ukrainian doctor was killed in a separate incident, medics said. The doctor's wife lost her legs.

Loyalists Taunt "Rats"

Civilians say they live in constant fear of snipers.

"Mohammed and his friends were in our garage. They had gone outside to play when he had to pause to put his shoe on. In that instant the bullet hit his head," said Zeinab, mother of a 10-year-old boy who lay in a hospital bed with a bullet wound.

Tripoli denies attacking civilians and calls rebels terrorists.

Misrata is running out of food and medical supplies. There are long queues for petrol, and electricity has been cut so residents depend on generators. Thousands of stranded foreign migrant workers are awaiting rescue in the port area.

Government troops have a wide edge in training and arms and rebel tactics are far from sophisticated.

"When we want to advance we just scream Allah-u-Akbar (God is Greatest). Some run to the left, some run to the right and one guy usually just shoots down the middle," said rebel Abdel Raouf, 32, who used to work in Libya's tourism industry.

Residents have laid out ambulance lanes lined by cinder blocks along the city's streets. At one sandbagged rebel checkpoint, an effigy of Gaddafi hangs from a pole.

"We lie to our children," said engineer Ahmed Hussein. "We tell them that the soldiers are very far away. But really there are bullets flying around here all the time and there are lots of mortar attacks. There is nothing we can really do about it."


Gaddafi's government repeated its call for a ceasefire. "Why don't they send us negotiators and decide ... a starting date for the ceasefire and observe whether we keep our promise or not?" a spokesman said. "I'm asking the international community to come and test what we say."

It is unclear how NATO-led forces plan to break the deadlock on the ground after the United States and several European allies declined last week to join ground strikes. Only the United States possesses low-flying attack aircraft of the types analysts say would be most effective in Libya.

"The problem here is that there is a mismatch between the real objective -- regime change -- and the forces that are being dedicated to it," said Stratfor analyst Marko Papic.

A rebel spokesman said there was also fighting near Libya's western border with Tunisia.

"Clashes are currently occuring in Nalut and have been going on since Monday. The Gaddafi forces are using Grad missiles and mortar rounds to attack Nalut. It's not an even battle. The rebels are not well-armed."

Witnesses said rebels appeared to have taken control of the Libyan side of a border crossing near the southern Tunisian town of Dehiba, in a remote region where they have been fighting government forces. Some government troops had turned themselves over to the Tunisian military.

The Libyan state news agency said on Thursday NATO had intercepted a Libyan oil tanker and had used "violence and terrorism against its crew" in a "barbaric piracy operation".

Evidence surfaced on Wednesday that Gaddafi's government is circumventing U.N. sanctions to import gasoline to western Libya using intermediaries who transfer the fuel between ships in Tunisia, a source told Reuters.

[Source: By Michael Georgy, Reuters, Misrata, 21Apr11]

Donaciones Donaciones Radio Nizkor

Libya War
small logoThis document has been published on 03May11 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.