Libyan rebels under siege
In western city, influence of NATO limited
MISURATA, Libya — Inside the besieged city of Misurata, spent rockets protrude from the pavement of a parking lot, unarmed teenagers prepare plastic crates of Molotov cocktails, and fighters at roadblocks sit inside empty shipping containers outfitted with furniture, carpets, and generator-powered TVs and watch Al Jazeera reports of their war with Moammar Khadafy.
For nearly two months, Khadafy’s forces have laid siege to the only major city in western Libya still in opposition hands, and its residents said the attacks have been relentless and hundreds of people have been killed. A British war photographer who was an Oscar-nominated codirector of the documentary “Restrepo’’ and a New York-based photographer for Getty Images were killed while covering the fighting in the city yesterday.
“The number of artillery shells and mortars is truly amazing,’’ said Abdul-Athim Salim, a geography professor at the local university. “The only break is when they are changing ammunition. Other than that, it’s continuous. It just keeps going. Boom, boom, boom!’’
Khadafy’s forces have intensified their assault on Libya’s third-largest city, firing tank shells and rockets into residential areas, according to witnesses and human rights groups. NATO commanders have admitted their airpower is limited in being able to protect civilians in a city — the core mission of the international air campaign.
France vowed yesterday to step up airstrikes, and France and Italy said that they would join Britain in sending some liaison officers to support the rebel army in Libya. The deployment of the officers was a sign that there would be no quick and easy end to the war in Libya, military analysts said.
The dispatching of the liaison officers — probably fewer than 40 of them, and carefully not designated as military trainers — is also a sign, they said, that only a combination of military pressure from the sky, economic pressure on the government, and a better-organized and coordinated rebel force will finally convince Khadafy that he has no option but to quit.
In Misurata, the government troops are deployed along Tripoli Street, a downtown thoroughfare, while well-organized groups of rebels man checkpoints every few hundred yards in opposition-controlled areas, flash the “V’’ sign, and shout, “Victorious! Victorious!’’
Most of the Khadafy troops are centered to the south and west of the city of 300,000, and many of the residents who had lived in those areas fled to the northern part of the city by the sea.
There were about four areas of intense fighting in the city yesterday, and everyone seemed to know where the battle lines are.
Random gunfire crackles during the day. Cinderblocks divide a road, with one lane for ambulances, one lane for everyone else.
Salim, 32, said the hardest part of living in the besieged city was security.
“About three times, I’d just been out driving my car and a mortar has landed in front of me on the road,’’ he said.
Khadafy’s government has come under sharp international criticism for its assault on Misurata and been accused by human rights groups of using heavy weapons, including shells, missiles, and cluster bombs. Such bombs can cause indiscriminate casualties and have been banned by many countries.
Libyan officials have persistently denied the army is shelling Misurata or using cluster bombs.
At Hilal Hospital in Misurata, Dr. Mohammed al-Fagieh said three bodies were brought in to the 45-bed facility yesterday, along with 12 people who were severely wounded and about 25 others with lesser injuries. That’s about normal these days, he added.
Human rights activists have said more than 260 people have been killed in Misurata, with the final toll likely higher, and many more people wounded.
Abdel Salam, a rebel fighter who wanted to be identified only by his given name for fear of reprisal, said earlier in the day that NATO planes flew overhead but did not carry out any airstrikes.
NATO Brigadier General Mark van Uhm said his forces have destroyed more than 40 tanks and several armored personnel carriers in Misurata, but there is concern of inadvertently harming civilians in such airstrikes.
“There is a limit to what can be achieved by airpower to stop fighting in a city,’’ said van Uhm.
Material from The New York Times was used in this article.