Gaddafi forces pound Misurata, NATO warns of tougher action

Tripoli/Washington: Forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi pounded Misurata amid a severe humanitarian crisis in the western besieged town as NATO threatened to step up its air strikes against the Libyan regime accused of war crimes.

In a significant development, rebels took control of the Libyan side of a key border crossing with Tunisia, in a remote western region where the government troops were engaged in intense fighting with the anti-Gaddafi forces.

According to witnesses, government troops abandoned their weapons and fled into Tunisia.

Amid growing concerns over a looming humanitarian disaster, civilians have been caught in the crossfire in Misurata, 214 km east of the capital Tripoli, in the face of intense pounding of the town by Libyan troops.

Hundreds of people are reported to have been killed in the over seven weeks of attacks, with at least five civilians killed in the fighting yesterday, Al Jazeera channel said.

Two western photojournalists Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington were among the casualties yesterday.

"Upto 50 or 60 people…are being injured per day," said Mohammed Al Fagieh, chief surgeon at a hospital in Misurata.

"I`m talking about the hospital, I`m not talking about Misurata. The number might double or triple sometimes," the pan-Arab channel quoted Fagieh as saying.

Al Jazeera quoted the Libyan state television as saying that NATO air strikes today targeted Tripoli, killing seven people and wounding 18 others in the Khallat al-Farjan area of the capital.

France and Italy have joined Britain in sending military officers to Libya to train the rebels fighting to end the 41-year-rul of Gaddafi.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy promised to step up air strikes on Gaddafi`s forces.

"We are indeed going to intensify the attacks and respond to this request from the(Libyan) national transition council. We will help you," Sarkozy told Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the leader of the opposition Libyan National Council in Paris yesterday.

The European military officers will help advise rebels on technical, logistical and organisational issues. In Washington, officials said that the US will give USD 25 million to rebels in non-lethal assistance.

Even as backing the by the three European countries to despatch military advisers to help Libyan rebels, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today said US will not be sending any military personnel to the war torn North African state.

"There is a desire to help them be more organised and we support that. We`re not participating in it", Clinton said asserting that Washington was preparing to grant non-lethal aid of USD 25 million to the Libyan opposition.

"We are moving to authorise up to USD 25 million in non-lethal commodities and services to support the Transitional National Council and our efforts to protect civilians," she said.

But appearing in an interview on PBS, Clinton responded with a "no" when asked if US would follow its allies UK, France and Italy to send military advisers to Libya.