Gadhafi's forces strike rebel-held city

Gadhafi's forces strike rebel-held city

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

Mortar fire killed at least three rebels and wounded 17 in attacks on Tripoli Street on Thursday, rebel spokesmen said.

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.

Among those killed on Wednesday were British and American photojournalists and a Ukrainian doctor. Rebels say Gadhafi's forces, including snipers, are deliberately attacking civilians, an accusation denied by Tripoli.

Libyan state television said early on Thursday Nato forces had struck the Khallat al-Farjan area of the capital Tripoli, killing seven people and wounding 18 others.
Nato forces later hit the town of Gharyan, south of Tripoli, killing or wounding several people, it said. The reports could not immediately be independently verified.

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 said 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 Gadhafi'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 unhappy

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.  "We are indeed going to intensify the attacks and respond to this request from the national transition council," a French official said, quoting Sarkozy as telling Abdel Jalil: "We will help you."

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.
It is unclear how Nato-led forces planned to overcome the stalemate on the ground after the US and several European allies declined last week to join ground strikes. Only the US possesses low-flying attack aircraft of the types analysts say would be most effective in Libya.

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