Opposition leaders said it was unclear whether NATO bombs or rockets and shelling from Moammar Gadhafi's forces killed the men as they drove on a swampy road that leads directly to the port. But a doctor in Misrata told The Associated Press that the explosions came from coalition aircraft. An opposition spokesman told The Washington Post that 10 fighters died, but the doctor told AP that 12 had been killed.
NATO had no immediate comment.
If the strike was by NATO warplanes, it would mark the third mistaken attack on rebel fighters in opposition territory since the airstrike campaign began several weeks ago.
On Tuesday, on the same road, NATO struck a convoy of 30 vehicles that belonged to Gadhafi's forces, rebel spokesman Mohamed Ali said. The group of four-wheel-drive vehicles was destroyed.
Recent attacks by Gadhafi loyalists have focused on the port to try to disrupt the flow of humanitarian aid and weapons being shuttled to the rebels by sea. If the port becomes too dangerous, the rebels will have no access to supplies, deeply affecting their ability to stave off Gadhafi's offensive.
Rebel leaders have begged for more NATO airstrikes, which they say will help save civilian lives. Even as some have denounced the civilian deaths from errant NATO strikes, the Western coalition has come under intense criticism in Misrata and the opposition east for not doing more to stop Gadhafi's forces.
Yesterday, rebel leaders declined to fault NATO for the strike on the port road.
"If it was NATO, it means our boys are completely wrong to go there," Ali said, via Skype. "They were told not to go there by commanders, and we accept responsibility for this mistake. No one in Misrata is blaming NATO for what happened."
Shelling from Gadhafi forces continued yesterday in the southern area of Karzaz. On Wednesday, at least 13 people were killed, including the fighters killed in the apparent NATO attack.