There are few signs in Misurata of NATO’s military campaign to protect civilians. The fighting is all urban warfare, making accurate strikes from the air especially difficult.
Among residents, there was mounting anger at what they saw as the international coalition’s failure to protect them against Gaddafi’s barrages.
“We are officially let down and disappointed by NATO,” said Mohammed, a city council spokesman who uses only one name for safety reasons. He said there apparently were no airstrikes in the area in the past three days, allowing Gaddafi’s forces to intensify their shelling of the port and the city’s residential and industrial areas.
“What is the mandate of NATO? It is protection of civilians, but civilians are dying in Misurata,” he said. “If they cannot do it, they should say they cannot do it.”
The rising toll
The United Nations said Monday that it had forged a deal with Gaddafi’s government to allow humanitarian aid into Misurata. But the agreement was met with skepticism in the city, and it is far from clear that the fighting will pause long enough for the aid to arrive.
In the meantime, the death toll climbs. Khesham said that a friend since childhood and fellow rebel fighter, Salah, was killed Sunday after being shot twice: in the thigh and in the head. He was buried the same night, after rebels burned down the building from which the sniper’s bullets had been fired.
Khesham was born in Germany and spent part of his childhood in Boise, Idaho. He has two homes in Tripoli and a sports car. But he gave it all up to fight with the rebels in Misurata.
Toward the end of the day Monday, he visited the Hikma hospital, which was overflowing with the wounded and the dead.
“How many martyrs today?” Khesham asked, his eyes turning red. A doctor checked: One was killed, and 26 were wounded.
“Do you know who?” Khesham asked.
“No,” the doctor said.
“This is the most difficult part,” Khesham said, as he sought to keep his composure. “I know these people from the fights and from my childhood, and it hurts a lot when they die.”
As Khesham walked away, four more people were carted in with bullet wounds to the chest. Around him, one man’s leg was destroyed by a blast, and others wept, crying out to God for help.
Correspondent Simon Denyer in Tripoli, Libya, contributed to this report.