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Six civilians killed as Gaddafi forces pound city of Misrata

Six civilians have been killed today, as Gaddafi’s forces aimed an unrelenting campaign of shelling and sniper fire on the rebel-stronghold of Misrata.

Libyan rebels run for cover after coming under heavy artillery fire from pro-Gadhafi forces along the front line near Brega, Libya, Friday, April 1, 2011.
Libyan rebels run for cover after coming under heavy artillery fire from pro-Gadhafi forces along the front line near Brega, Libya, Friday, April 1, 2011.
Image: AP Photo/Altaf Qadri

GOVERNMENT FORCES KILLED six civilians in the city of Misrata on Saturday in an unrelenting campaign of shelling and sniper fire aimed at driving rebels from the main city they hold in western Libya.

Doctors said that 243 people have been killed and some 1,000 wounded in more than a month and a half of fighting between Muammar Gaddafi’s forces and rebels in Misrata. Most of those slain Saturday were hit by snipers, they said.

One said government forces appeared to be trying to wound civilians.

“The weapons that the Gaddafi brigades use are not meant to prevent movement in the city, but to cause also deformation or paralysis so the suffering of the people endures all their lives,” the doctor on the condition of anonymity.

NATO said Saturday that it was investigating Libyan rebel reports that a coalition warplane had struck a rebel position that was firing into the air near the eastern front line of the battle with Gaddafi’s forces.

Rebels said a group of opposition fighters was hit by an airstrike about 20 kilometers east of the town of Brega Friday night.

Mohammad Bedrise, a doctor in a nearby hospital, said three burned bodies had been brought in by men who said they had been hit after firing a heavy machine gun in the air in celebration. Idris Kadiki, a 38-year-old mechanical engineer, said he had seen an ambulance and three cars burning after an airstrike.

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said the coaliton was looking into the reports.

The loosely organised rebel force had been acting in a more disciplined fashion in recent days. On Friday only former military officers and the lightly trained volunteers serving under them were allowed on the front lines. Some were recent arrivals, hoping to rally against forces loyal to the Libyan leader who have pushed rebels back about 160 kilometers this week.

The better organised fighters, unlike some of their predecessors, can tell the difference between incoming and outgoing fire. They know how to avoid sticking to the roads, a weakness in the untrained forces that Gaddafi’s troops have exploited. And they know how to take orders.

The greater organisation was a sign that military forces that split from the regime to join the rebellion were finally taking a greater role in the fight after weeks trying to organise. Fighters cheered Friday as one of their top commanders — former Interior Minister Abdel-Fattah Younis — drove by in a convoy toward the front.

It was too early to say if the improvements will tip the fight in the rebels’ favor. They have been struggling to exploit the opportunity opened by international airstrikes hammering Gaddafi’s forces since 19 March.

In a sign the strikes may be eroding Gaddafi’s resilience, his government is trying to hold talks with the US, Britain and France in hopes of ending the air campaign, said Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi, a former Libyan prime minister who has served as a Gadhafi envoy during the crisis. “We are trying to find a mutual solution,” he told Channel 4 News on Friday.

- AP

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