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Libyan rebels condemn NATO over Gaddafi advance

The head of Libya`s rebel army has condemned NATO for its slow chain of command in ordering air strikes to protect civilians.

Benghazi: The head of Libya`s rebel army has condemned NATO for its slow chain of command in ordering air strikes to protect civilians, saying the alliance was "letting the people of Misrata die every day."

The besieged city of Misrata, the only big population center in western Libya where a revolt against Gaddafi has not been crushed and which faces army tanks and snipers, is now the priority for NATO air strikes, alliance officials said earlier.

"NATO blesses us every now and then with a bombardment here and there, and is letting the people of Misrata die every day," Abdel Fattah Younes, head of the rebel forces said in the eastern stronghold city of Benghazi. "NATO has disappointed us."

NATO said it was carrying out its mandate and the pace of the air campaign had not abated since it took over from a coalition led by the United States, Britain and France on March 31. It now leads air strikes targeting Gaddafi`s military infrastructure and policing a no-fly zone and an arms embargo.

Younes said NATO had been moving very slowly, allowing Gaddafi forces to advance, and that rebels were considering referring the issue to the U.N. Security Council which authorized its mission. "NATO has become our problem," he said.

A rebel spokesman said Gaddafi`s forces bombarded Misrata again on Tuesday. "Misrata was shelled with tank fire, artillery and mortars," the rebel, called Abdelsalam, told Reuters, adding: "Unfortunately NATO operations have not been effective in Misrata. Civilians are dying every day."
Another rebel in Misrata, called Nasser, said two people had been killed and 26 injured on Tuesday in mortar attacks.

Stalemate on the frontline of fighting in eastern Libya, defections from Gaddafi`s circle and the plight of civilians caught in fighting or facing food and fuel shortages has prompted a flurry of diplomacy to find a solution to the civil war in this oil-producing North African desert state.

Protests against the government that began on February 15 swiftly descended into civil war after Gaddafi forces opened fire on demonstrators. He then crushed uprisings in Libya`s west, leaving the east and Misrata in rebel hands.

UN Security Council

NATO-led air power is holding the balance in Libya, preventing Gaddafi forces from overrunning the rebels but unable for now to hand them outright victory.

"Either NATO does its work properly or I will ask the (rebel) national council to raise the matter with the Security Council," Younes, a former interior minister in Gaddafi`s administration who defected, told reporters.

"The reaction of NATO is very slow. One official calls another and then from the official to the head of NATO and from the head of NATO to the field commander. This takes eight hours," Younes said, adding:

"Misrata is being subjected to a full extermination."
Asked about Younes`s remarks, NATO spokesman Oana Lungescu said: "The facts speak for themselves. The pace of operations since NATO took over has not abated. We have conducted 851 sorties in the past six days ... we are fulfilling our mandate."

Another NATO official said: "The rebels may not see us. We may be 100 or 150 km away. We are some distance from where the fighting is going on so the rebels are not aware."

Earlier in the day, NATO had given details of the campaign.
"The assessment is that we have taken out 30 percent of the military capacity of Gaddafi," Brigadier General Mark van Uhm, a senior NATO staff officer, said in Brussels.

Over the last day, air strikes around Misrata hit Gaddafi`s tanks, air defense systems and other armored vehicles. Near Brega in the east, where intense fighting raged for a sixth day on Tuesday, NATO aircraft struck a rocket launcher.


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