Libyan gov't forces fire over 100 Grad rockets at Misrata

Obama, Cameron, Sarkozy publish article acknowledging new mission goes beyond UN mandate; HRW accuses Tripoli of using cluster bombs.

Libyan rebel with anti-aircraft gun 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)
Libyan rebel with anti-aircraft gun 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)
BENGHAZI, Libya - Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi fired at least 100 Grad rockets into Misrata on Saturday, a rebel spokesman said, in a third day of heavy bombardment of the besieged rebel-held city.
"They fired Grads at an industrial area this morning, at least one hundred rockets were fired. No casualties are reported," Abdelbasset Abu Mzereiq told Reuters by telephone.
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Misrata is the only major bastion of the rebels in the western part of Libya. Pro-Gaddafi forces have laid siege to it after the city rose up in revolt along with others against Gaddafi's four-decade rule in mid-February.
More than 100 rockets landed in the city on Friday and rebels said government forces had reached the city centers.
Human Rights Watch said it had evidence Gaddafi's forces were firing cluster munitions into residential areas of Misrata. It published photographs of what it said were Spanish-produced cluster bombs, which release grenades designed to explode into fragments and kill the maximum number of people.
Mussa Ibrahim, a Libyan government spokesman, dismissed the allegations, saying: "I challenge them to prove it."
Late on Friday, an aid ship brought nearly 1,200 Misrata evacuees to the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, just a fraction of those stranded in the city and desperate to escape, an official of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), who was on board the Greek ship, said.
There were likely to be 8,000-10,000 migrants who still needed to be evacuated from the city, Jeremy Haslam, an IOM aid coordinator said. The continued bombardment made it impossible to get into many areas of Misrata, he said.
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"We threw out the textbook, basically. We couldn't get to the most vulnerable, those who need to get out fastest, because it was too dangerous," Haslam said.
On Friday, US President Barack Obama acknowledged the military situation on the ground in Libya had reached stalemate three weeks into the war, but said he expected NATO allies to force Gaddafi from power eventually.
Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy published a joint newspaper article vowing to continue their military campaign until Gaddafi leaves power. They acknowledged their aim of regime change went beyond protecting civilians, as allowed by a UN Security Council resolution, but said Libyans would never be safe under Gaddafi.
Obama told an interview with the Associated Press: "You now have a stalemate on the ground militarily, but Gaddafi is still getting squeezed in all kinds of other ways. He is running out of money, he is running out of supplies. The noose is tightening and he is becoming more and more isolated."
Misrata residents under 'medieval siege'
A rebel spokesman in Misrata said pro-Gaddafi forces had on Friday also shelled the road leading to the port, a lifeline for trapped civilians and the main entry point for international aid agencies, killing eight people.
"Today was very tough ... Gaddafi's forces entered Tripoli Street and Nakl al Theqeel road," he said by phone, referring to a main Misrata thoroughfare.
"Witnesses said they saw pro-Gaddafi soldiers on foot in the city center today. Except for snipers, they usually stay in their tanks and armored vehicles," the spokesman added.
A government reconnaissance helicopter had flown over the city, he said, despite a no-fly zone mandated by the UN Security Council and enforced by NATO warplanes.
Hundreds are believed to have died in Misrata, under what Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy described in their article as a "medieval siege."
"Our duty and our mandate under UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Gaddafi by force. But it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Gaddafi in power," they wrote.
The United States led the bombing campaign in its first week, but has since taken a back seat, putting NATO in command with the British and French responsible for most strikes on Gaddafi's forces. Obama made clear Washington was not planning to resume to a more active military role.
Britain and France spent this week trying to persuade other NATO allies to contribute more fire power.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the NATO allies were searching for ways to provide funds to the rebels, including helping them to sell oil from areas they control.
"The opposition needs a lot of assistance, on the organizational side, on the humanitarian side, and on the military side," she said.