Loyalists to Muammar Qaddafi are now attacking Misurata, a besieged city in northwest Libya, with cluster bombs and ground-to-ground rockets. Cluster bombs, which hit large areas with highly-explosive munitions in dense succession, have been banned by most of the world because they cannot be fired precisely and put civilians in populated areas at risk. The bombs were visible late Thursday night in what appeared to be 120-millimeter mortar round bursting over the city and spewing "high-explosive bomblets below," reports the New York Times. The paper says expended shells show that the rounds come from MAT-120 cargo mortar projectiles, which each carry and distribute "21 smaller submunitions designed both to kill people and penetrate light armor." At a news conference in Berlin, Hillary Clinton said she was "not aware" of the use of cluster bombs or other types of heavy weapons, adding:
That is worrying information. And it is one of the reasons the fight in Misurata is so difficult, because it’s at close quarters, it’s in amongst urban areas and it poses a lot of challenges to both NATO and to the opposition.
The weapons that damaged the residential area near city's port last night, prohibiting residents from fleeing and aid for the wounded, were found GRAD rockets, a Soviet weapons system manufactured during the cold war, designed to cover a battlefield with multiple explosions. Survivors and witnesses said one rocket alone killed eight civilians. Hours ago, a Freedom Group tweeted from inside Libya that explosions were still being heard.
The attacks have come as allied forces issued a joint statement that NATO will not cease its military presence until Qaddafi is ousted. NPR's Andy Carvin relayed messages from inside Misurata, saying,
Here people are very clear about Nato : We need help because we can't fight against bombarding. . . We need help from nato's plane, but this war is our war, and we want weapons to fight ourselves, on the ground, against Kadafi.
Currently, about 5,000 protesters are demonstrating outside the main courthouse in Benghazi, a rebel stronghold, with chants of encouragement for cities under attack like Misurata, with people flying flags from the U.S., UK, and France. Al Jazeera English producer Evan Hill tweeted he believed that the protesters were chanting,
"Zenga zenga, dar dar, Muammar ras hamar," which is a play on Gaddafi's famous speech [threatening protesters] and calls him "donkey head."
In case you haven't seen it, here's an English-translation of the remixed version of Qaddafi's infamous rant:
Qaddafi Forces Fire Cluster Bombs Into Civilian Areas [NYT]
Gaddafi forces pound Misurata again [Al Jazeera English]