Friday, April 22, 2011

Libyan Troops Pound Rebels in Misrata

Libyan troops pound rebel-held Misrata

Thursday, 21 April 2011 22:24

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

Mortar fire killed at least three rebels and wounded 17 in attacks on Tripoli Street early yesterday, 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 ora-nge dump trucks, parts of cars and even bedframes and tree trunks.

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."

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 UN 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 UN-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. - Reuters.

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