Moral Low Ground

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Misery in Misrata as Gaddafi’s Forces Shell Civilians

Life has been all but impossible in Misrata as dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s troops continue to bombard the city with mortars and cluster bombs, killing civilians and rebels alike, Britain’s Guardian reports.

Residents of the Mediterranean port city of 300,000, Libya’s third-largest, have endured hell on earth since¬† the siege began seven weeks ago. Some 365 residents have been killed and around 4,000 have been wounded, with at least 15 civilians killed and more than 100 injured in the last couple of days.

Gaddafi’s forces have unleashed snipers, mortars, tank shells, rockets and cluster bombs–which cause massive damage and are banned in most countries (but not in the United States)– on the terrorized people of Misrata. Government forces have targeted both rebels and civilians alike; a 12-year-old boy on his way to buy bread was shot dead by a sniper.

Navi Pillay, United Nations human rights commissioner, says Gaddafi’s troops may be committing war crimes by targeting civilians with heavy weaponry.

Misrata’s citizens say life is nearly impossible due to the almost constant shelling. “The number of artillery shells and mortars is truly amazing,” geography professor Abdul-Athim Salim told the Guardian. “”The only break is when they are changing ammunition. Other than that, it’s continuous. It just keeps going. About three times, I have just been out driving my car and a mortar has landed in front of me on the road.”

Mohammed al-Fagieh, chief surgeon at Hilal Hospital, told the Associated Press that most of the injuries he’s treating are “civilians who are in their homes.”

It’s not only Libyans who have been dying in Misrata. Tim Hetherington, the acclaimed British photojournalist and filmmaker, nominated for an Oscar for the Afghanistan war documentary “Restrepo”, was killed covering the fighting. So was Pulitzer Prize-nominated American photographer Chris Hondros. A Ukrainian doctor was also reportedly killed by a shell; his wife lost her legs the attack.

Many Misrata residents, as well as the rebels, want NATO to do more to stop Gaddafi’s forces from slaughtering civilians. But “there is a limit to what can be achieved by air power to stop fighting in a city,” NATO brigadier general Mark van Uhm said.

France’s President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has vowed to step up the air campaign against government troops. “We are indeed going to intensify the attacks and respond to this request from the National Transitional Council,” he said.

France, Britain and Italy are also sending military advisers to Libya to help the rebels better organize. But the European troops will be strictly limited to an advisory role.

For now, at least.

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