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Libyan rebels, NATO in joint military operations against Qaddafi forces

Libya’s rebels and NATO forces have established a joint operations room, said the spokesman of the National Transitional Council, Abdul Hafiz Ghoga. This was reported Saturday evening by Agence-France Presse.

“There is a joint operations room,” Mr. Ghoga told a news conference in Benghazi. He was replying to a question on coordination between NATO and the council’s forces that are fighting the troops of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. He declined to give more details.

Meanwhile, Libyan rebels are engaged in a fierce battle in the strategic oil town of Brega, and are hopeful of capturing the oil port soon, their military spokesman told Al Arabiya television late on Friday.

“Our situation is very good, thank God. Today we began advancing toward Brega, and there is now a big and fierce battle in Brega, and we have high hopes that Brega will be ours in the coming few hours,” a rebel spokesman, General Abdel Fattah Younes, said to Al Arabiya.

“We are in a not-too-bad state of preparedness and our army fighters, youths and rebels are now doing a good job—and in the morning there will be good news,” General Younes added.

Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of The Washington Post reported that, less than a month into the Libyan conflict, NATO is running short of precision bombs, highlighting the limitations of Britain, France and other European countries in sustaining even a relatively small military action over an extended period of time, according to senior NATO and U.S. officials.

“The shortage of European munitions, along with the limited number of aircraft available, has raised doubts among some officials about whether the United States can continue to avoid returning to the air campaign if Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi hangs on to power for several more months,” they wrote.

Separately, it was impossible to independently verify the claim about insurgent gains on the fluid eastern front of Libya’s civil war.

But General Younes said the fighters had received supplies of what they needed in terms of weapons from nations supporting the uprising against the Libyan leader, Muammar Qaddafi.

Meanwhile, Colonel Qaddafi’s regime denied it was using cluster bombs in clashes with fighters in residential areas following reports published in The New York Times, and by human-rights activists.

“Absolutely not! We can’t do this. Morally and legally we can’t do this,” a government spokesperson, Moussa Ibrahim told journalists when questioned on the issue. “We have never done it. We challenge them to prove it.”

Journalists and human rights groups said on Friday that Mr. Qaddafi’s forces were using the banned bombs in the besieged city of Misrata, as medics there reported that at least eight were people killed while waiting in a queue for bread.

“Last night it was like rain,” said Hazam Abu Zaid, a local resident who has taken up arms to defend his neighborhood, describing the cluster bombings.

However, Mr. Ibrahim countered this by saying, “If we use this bomb, the evidence will remain for weeks and we know that the international community is coming to our country soon.”

“So we can't do this. We can’t incriminate ourselves as criminals” he said.

The New York-based group, Human Rights Watch, said it believed the weapons were being used. Investigators affiliated with the group examined evidence such as remnants of bomblets. They also spoke to Misrata ambulance drivers who had seen them being used in attacks.

“Human Rights Watch observed at least three cluster munitions explode over the El-Shawahda neighborhood in Misrata on the night of April 14, 2011,” the group said in a statement.

The New York Times first reported the use of the banned munitions. A reporting team for the newspaper photographed MAT-120 mortar rounds that explode in the air and scatter deadly, armor piercing sub-munitions below.

“It’s appalling that Libya is using this weapon, especially in a residential area,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch.

Mr. Ibrahim branded these reports as “surreal.”

“We invite these people to come and witness things from the other side,” he said. “They only choose the rebel side or listen to phone calls that come to their offices in European capitals.”

“We are asking Human Rights Watch, which is a very active organization, to please come visit us. Come to Tripoli. We will take you to all cities, to Misrata. So they can see for themselves that we haven’t done it,” Mr. Ibrahim said.

Cluster bombs have been banned under international law since August 2010 because of the indiscriminate civilian deaths they can cause.

(Sara Ghasemilee of Al Arabiya can be reached at: Sara.Ghasemilee@mbc.net)