NATO Strike Kills 12 Libyan Rebels in Misurata

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PostThu Apr 28, 2011 12:09 am » by Acee22

27 April 2011

MISURATA, Libya — NATO warplanes attacked a rebel position on the front lines of this besieged city here on Wednesday, killing 12 fighters in what the rebels called a friendly fire accident.

The rebels, who did not want to be identified for security reasons, were at first reluctant to admit the accident had occurred, not wanting to discourage further strikes against the forces of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. The pace of NATO strikes had picked up noticeably in recent days, after rebel leaders complained of a lack of support in the weeks after the United States turned over operational control of the air campaign to NATO at the end of March.

The airstrike hit a salt factory in the Qasr Ahmed neighborhood at 4:30 p.m. local time. The rebels had been using it as a forward position since at least yesterday, they said, and had notified NATO of their presence there. In early April, NATO admitted its warplanes twice hit rebel positions, killing more than a dozen men, and expressed regret after the second.

NATO could not be immediately reached for comment on this latest incident.

At a remote border crossing in the country’s mountainous southwest, rebels worked feverishly to build defenses as Colonel Qaddafi’s forces bore down on them, Reuters reported. The rebels had seized the crossing last week, allowing them to resupply rebel-held towns and cities that have been running short of food, fuel, water and medical supplies in a siege imposed by the government forces in early April.

Since the war started, it has been hard to get an accurate count of fatalities, because many deaths go unreported. In Washington on Wednesday, the United States Ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, said that American officials have seen estimates ranging from 10,000 to as many as 30,000 people, Reuters reported. He did not offer any explanation or supporting evidence for that estimate.

Earlier, a ferry chartered by an international aid organization docked in this besieged city’s port and returned to sea after taking aboard more than 800 stranded migrant workers, completing the evacuation in a lull between episodes of heavy shelling.

The ferry, the Panamanian-flagged Red Star I, had been held off the coast overnight Tuesday as forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi pounded Misurata with ground-to-ground rocket fire. But on Wednesday, as the shelling temporarily stopped, the vessel slipped into port.

It arrived to a city falling more fully under rebel control. While still cut off overland by pro-Qaddafi forces and facing the unpredictable perils of artillery and rocket barrages, the rebels were fighting stray Qaddafi holdouts at the city’s edge and speaking of their hopes to capture the airport, which remains in the loyalists’ hands.

Along and near Tripoli Street, one of the city’s main boulevards and the site of intensive fighting this month, lightly armed rebels wandered the ruins, mingling with shopkeepers who had returned to claim what remained of their inventories.

In one shop, a family packed away leather belts and shoes. In another, the owners pointed to a cluster-munitions canister on the floor as they looked at the shattered display cases that formerly held cellular phones.

Abdul Skair, 28, surveyed the wreckage on the street. Before him was a cityscape of barricades, roasted cars, shattered glass and burned storefronts. The red ribbons of expended cluster munitions littered the streets, bits of color among the rubble.

“Qaddafi is number one for terror,” Mr. Sklair said, angrily.

As he spoke, the Red Star I, chartered by the International Organization for Migration, was completing its brief stay in port. Dawn had found it at anchorage just off the coast, its crew uncertain whether it would attempt to dock or turn back for Benghazi, the rebel capital, a roughly 20-hour steam away.

The vessel had attempted to reach the harbor late Monday, but had stopped after hearing and seeing a succession of high-explosive barrages along the coastline, some of them directly on the port. The rockets fell even though the organization had notified the Qaddafi government of the aid ship’s plans.

“We notified everybody of our mission,” said Othman Belbeisi, the International Organization for Migration’s team leader. “Everybody knows and everybody should know.”

Mr. Belbeisi said the ship should try to reach the harbor in the morning. And at 8:45 a.m. the word came over the vessel’s intercom: “Crew on standby, crew on standby.” Its engines shuddered to life.

By 10:00 a.m. the Red Star I had entered the port unescorted, as dark smoke billowed in the air. The effects of the shelling were visible in holes in warehouse roofs and in a blackened shipping container beside where the vessel tied off, from which smoke also rose as its contents burned.

After the port’s employees unloaded two ambulances and ten containers of food and medical supplies, the human cargo began to arrive — hundreds of migrant workers, most of them from Niger, crammed into trucks.

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