Snipers, shells, tanks terrorize key Libyan city

(AP) - Moammar Gadhafi's snipers and tanks areterrorizing civilians in the coastal city of Misrata, a residentsaid, and the U.S. military warned Tuesday it was

TRIPOLI, Libya - (AP) - Moammar Gadhafi's snipers and tanks areterrorizing civilians in the coastal city of Misrata, a residentsaid, and the U.S. military warned Tuesday it was "considering alloptions" in response to dire conditions there that have leftpeople cowering in darkened homes and scrounging for food andrainwater. Heavy anti-aircraft fire and loud explosions sounded in Tripoliafter nightfall, possibly a new attack in the international aircampaign that so far has focused on military targets. Butconditions have deteriorated sharply in Misrata, the last majorcity in western Libya held by the rebel force trying to endGadhafi's four-decade rule. Residents of the city 125 miles southeast of Tripoli, say shelling and sniper attacksare unrelenting. A doctor said tanks opened fire on a peacefulprotest on Monday. "The number of dead are too many for our hospital to handle,"said the doctor, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear ofreprisals if the city falls to Gadhafi's troops. As for food, hesaid, "We share what we find and if we don't find anything, whichhappens, we don't know what to do." Neither the rebels nor Gadhafi's forces are strong enough tohold Misrata or Ajdabiya, a key city in the east that is also adaily battleground. But the airstrikes and missiles that are theweapons of choice for international forces may be of limited use. "When there's fighting in urban areas and combatants are mixingand mingling with civilians, the options are vastly reduced," saidFred Abrahams, a special adviser at Human Rights Watch. "I canimagine the pressures and desires to protect civilians in Misrataand Ajdabiya are bumping up against the concerns about causingharms to the civilians you seek to protect." It is all but impossible to verify accounts within the twocities, which have limited communications and are now blocked torights monitors such as the International Committee for the RedCross. Most of eastern Libya is in rebel hands but the force - withmore enthusiasm than discipline - has struggled to take advantageof the gains from the international air campaign, which appears tohave hobbled Gadhafi's air defenses and artillery and rescued therebels from impending defeat. Despite the U.S. fears for Misrata, the Obama administration iseager relinquish leadership of the hurriedly assembled coalition.With NATO divided, France on Tuesday proposed the creation of apolitical steering committee to run the operation. If accepted, thecommittee's job might be to bring order to what some observers hassaid seems a chaotic effort by countries with differing objectives. Ajdabiya, a city of 140,000 that is the gateway to the east, hasbeen under fought over for a week. Outside the city, a ragtag bandof hundreds of fighters milled about on Tuesday, clutching mortars,grenades and assault rifles. Some wore khaki fatigues. One mansported a bright white studded belt. Some men clambered up power lines in the rolling sand dunes ofthe desert, squinting as they tried to see Gadhafi's forces insidethe city. The group periodically came under artillery attacks, somemen scattering and others holding their ground. "Gadhafi is killing civilians inside Ajdabiya," said KhaledHamid, who said he been in Gadhafi's forces but defected to therebels. A U.S. fighter jet on a strike mission against a governmentmissile site crashed overnight in eastern Libya. Both crewmenejected safely as the aircraft spun from the sky during the thirdnight of the U.S. and European air campaign. The crash, which the U.S. attributed to mechanical failure, wasthe first major loss for the U.S. and European military aircampaign. By Tuesday afternoon, the plane's body was mostly burned to ash,with only the wings and tail fins intact. U.S. officials say bothcrew members were safe in American hands.

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