Moammar Gadhafi's forces poured rocket fire after dawn yesterday into Misrata, the only western city still in rebel hands, and weary residents who have endured more than a month of fighting lashed out at NATO for failing to halt the deadly assault.
Five civilians were killed in a barrage of shelling that heavily damaged a factory for dairy products, a doctor said. A human rights group has accused the Gadhafi regime of using cluster bombs in Misrata -- munitions that can cause indiscriminate casualties and have been banned by most countries. The Libyan government and military denied the charge.
In eastern Libya, fierce fighting left seven rebels dead, 27 wounded and four missing as the anti-Gadhafi forces sought to push toward the strategic oil town of Brega, according to Mohammed Idris, a hospital supervisor in the nearby city of Ajdabiya.
Frustration was growing among residents in Misrata, where Gadhafi's troops have intensified their long siege of the city in recent days. The doctor sharply criticized NATO for failing to break the assault with its month-old campaign of airstrikes.
"We have not seen any protection of civilians," the doctor said. "NATO airstrikes are not enough, and the proof is that there are civilians killed every day here."
The theme was echoed in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, where spokesman Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga told a news conference: "There's no more room for hesitation or for not standing with determination against what is happening in Misrata and other Libyan cities, because the destruction that Moammar Gadhafi is causing in Libyan cities is great and extensive."
Rebel fighters in eastern Libya were less critical of NATO. Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the rebels' National Transitional Council, said this week that without the airstrikes, even Benghazi -- Libya's second-largest city and the rebels' main stronghold -- would be in "complete danger."
Rebels in Misrata and the New York-based group Human Rights Watch have alleged that Gadhafi's forces have been using cluster bombs, which pose particular risk to civilians because they scatter small bomblets over a wide area.
A boat chartered by Doctors Without Borders and carrying 95 Libyans from Misrata -- 65 of them injured -- arrived yesterday at the Tunisian port of Zarzis, according to the official TAP news agency.
A lack of medicine, food and water for the 6,000 to 10,000 people in migrant workers' camps around Misrata has led to a "catastrophic" situation that is deteriorating daily, said Dr. Helmi Makkaoui, a Tunisian coordinator for the humanitarian aid group.