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Rebels question NATO as fighting continues

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Conflict continues in Misrata, Libya
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Fighting continues in Misrata, Ajdabiya
  • Hundreds gather at the Libyan ruler's compound in Tripoli
  • The rally comes after explosions believed to be NATO airstrikes hit targets
  • Libyan forces react with anti-aircraft fire

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- As fighting continued in the Libyan cities of Ajdabiya and Misrata Sunday, a rebel spokesman questioned the commitment of NATO's mission there.

Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi were bombing Ajdabiya from 40-50 kilometers (25-31 miles) away, Libyan rebel spokesman Shamsiddin Abdulmolah told CNN. The loyalists who were bombing the city "have no problem with the weather conditions there," referring to unconfirmed reports that NATO airstrikes were halted in the area due to weather conditions.

Gadhafi's forces are using Grad missiles and mortars, "and sometimes we feel that NATO wants to use any excuse out there so they don't carry out their duties," he said.

NATO did not immediately respond to a CNN inquiry about its operations Sunday. Earlier, however, the NATO press office told CNN that it does not discuss ongoing operations and would not confirm or deny any reports. The most official report from NATO states that it conducted 142 sorties on Saturday, of which 42 were strike sorties.

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Meanwhile, in Misrata, six people were killed and 47 injured in Sunday fighting, Abdulmolah said.

Misrata remains in control of the rebels, he said, though they are still fighting some 200 to 300 Gadhafi troops inside the city.

"We are confident that we will be able to liberate the city completely and rescue our civilians who are being targeted by the madness of Gadhafi's death squads," he said.

The rebel spokesman also criticized NATO's role in Misrata.

"We still need NATO's assistance, but we don't understand what they are up to," he said.

In one instance, rebel fighters pushed back Gadhafi's squads to a shoe factory, from where they were bombing residential areas in the city, he said. NATO refused to bomb the shoe factory because it is a civilian facility, he said. In the end, the rebels pushed the loyalists out of the shoe factory, which they burned after abandoning.

"We can't understand (NATO's) excuses," Abdulmolah said. "We want to save our population from being murdered by these merciless death squads.

Earlier, an opposition member said loyalists were using bombs that look like perfume bottles.

Photographs indicated they were shells fired from a grenade launcher that either did not explode on impact or were deliberately masked and placed in populated areas.

The lethal weapons have blown off people's limbs and killed children, the council member said Saturday.

The report came a day after Human Rights Watch reported its members saw three cluster bombs explode Thursday night in a Misrata neighborhood.

The activist group said it inspected debris and interviewed witnesses about two other apparent cluster bombings.

The Libyan government has denied the use of such bombs, which are banned internationally because of their indiscriminate nature and ability to harm civilians after a conflict ends.

In the Lubyan capital, Tripoli, hundreds of chanting supporters waved green flags and pledged loyalty to Gadhafi after thunderous explosionsbelieved to be NATO airstrikes pounded targets in the capital.

"I have a message to NATO and to the United Kingdom and France," a man wrapped in a green flag said Saturday night. "We say to them, we will kill you if you come to our land."

Others chanted, "go go Sarkozy," referring to French President Nicolas Sarkozy. France is one of the nations taking part in the coalition airstrikes.

"Everyone here will die for Moammar Gadhafi," a young man said.

The supporters gathered at Gadhafi's compound in the capital hours after NATO apparently hit targets in Tripoli and its outskirts Saturday night.

Libyan forces reacted with anti-aircraft fire.

With no signs of an end to the war, immigrants have scrambled to flee the nation.

International Organization for Migration said Saturday that a boat rescued 1,200 migrant workers and their families who had been stranded around the port cit of Misrata.

The area has been bombarded daily by Gadhafi's forces, according to witnesses.

Witnesses have reported dire conditions in the city, including food shortages and the fear of pro-Gadhafi snipers taking aim at anyone walking on the streets.

At least 700 people have died since violence erupted in Misrata two months ago, a medical director said.

Despite weeks of aerial bombardment by international fighter jets, Gadhafi remains defiant and has rebuffed global calls to stop attacks on civilians.

At a news conference in Benghazi, the deputy chairman of Libya's Transitional National Council appealed to the international community to help prevent further tragedy. He said 1.5 million Libyans were under attack every day.

"We already have warned before that the regime was threatening real massacres against innocent civilians," Abdul Hafiz Ghoga told reporters. "The international community is now witnessing what this regime is capable of. The destruction in Misrata and other cities is unacceptable."

NATO has said it needs more precision fighter jets because loyalist maneuvers have made airstrikes much more difficult without harming civilians.

CNN's Reza Sayah, Fred Pleitgen, Saad Abedine, Salma Abdelaziz, Mitra Mobasherat, Hamdi Alkhshali and Bharati Naik contributed to this report

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