Witness: Misurata shelled after promised troop withdrawal
Libyan government forces continued to shell the western port Misurata by rockets, a witness said Sunday, despite an earlier announcement that they would withdraw from the city, dpa reported.
Ahmed al-Qadi, a resident of the war-ravaged city, told broadcaster Al Arabiya that he could hear mortars shelling the outskirts of Misurata in the morning.
"(Moamer) Gaddafi's troops only want to escape their defeat in the city, still under control of the rebels," he said.
Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim had announced, after eight weeks of fierce fighting with rebels, that forces loyal to the Libyan leader were fully retreating from Misurata, and that local tribes would be left to settle the issue, either by force or negotiations.
He said that residents in neighbouring communities had given the Libyan army an ultimatum to defeat the rebels quickly. When the deadline was not met, the tribes vowed to deal with the rebels themselves.
Heavy fighting in Misurata on Saturday had left at least 25 people dead and 100 injured, the Brnieq newspaper, which is based in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi reported.
The rebels say at least 1,000 have been killed in Misurata, Libya's third most populous city, about 200 kilometres east of Tripoli.
The government's announcement came after coalition forces deployed Predator drones. The unmanned aircraft on Saturday destroyed a rocket launcher used by Gaddafi troops near Misurata that was "used against civilians" in the city, NATO said.
NATO has been in control of military operations in Libya for over three weeks to protect civilians from Gaddafi's troops and enforce a United Nations-mandated no-fly zone over the North African country.
The government said that five civilians were killed on Saturday by NATO airstrikes, which also damaged infrastructure, sewer systems and vehicles in five cities, including the capital Tripoli and Gaddafi's hometown Sirte, the official news agency JANA reported on Sunday.
NATO, however, released a statement on Sunday afternoon describing its efforts to protect civilians during one Predator drone attack on a surface-to-air missile in Tripoli the evening before.
"The operators of the Predator were able to detect a number of civilians playing football near the missile and firing was delayed until the people had dispersed," it said.
The story highlights "the complex and fluid situation" NATO is facing in Libya, the deputy commander for the alliance's Libya operations, Rear Admiral Russ Harding, was quoted as saying.
"We ask civilians in the affected regions to distance themselves from Gaddafi regime forces, installations and equipment whenever possible," he added. "NATO will continue to do everything in its power to prevent harm to the civilian population."