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Threat of protracted civil war looms over Libya

Libyan rebels have sustained heavy losses after pro-regime forces besieged the country's third-largest city, Misurata. Meanwhile, UN and European Union teams have been sent to Libya assess humanitarian needs.

Pro-Gadhafi soldiers and supporters gather to celebrate in Tripoli

Gadhafi supporters in Tripoli celebrated an alleged victory

An onslaught by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi prompted the United Nations to demand access to the "injured and dying" on Sunday as a secret British diplomatic mission to contact rebel forces proved to be an embarrassing failure.

UN emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos called for "urgent access" to the city of Misurata after Gadhafi's forces launched a deadly attack on Libya's rebel-controlled, third-largest city.

"People are injured and dying and need help immediately. I call on the authorities to provide access without delay to allow aid workers to help save lives," Amos said in a statement.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed former Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdelilah Al-Khatib as a special envoy to undertake "urgent negotiations" with Libyan authorities on the humanitarian situation.

A UN team was to be immediately dispatched to Libya to assess the humanitarian needs there, after the UN secured the agreement of Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa.

The European Union has also sent a team to the country, according to the bloc's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, which was being headed by Italian emergency aid expert Agostino Miozzo.

The fight for Misurata

Doctors treat injured man

Rebels faced a massive onslaught from government forces

Fears grew Sunday that the four-week conflict between regime and rebel forces could enter into a protracted civil war. Witnesses said the military shelled the city's central square and opened random fire on houses, using mortars and rockets in an attempt to take back the rebel-controlled city.

A rebel spokesperson maintained late Sunday that both Misurata and the besieged city of Zawiyah remained in opposition hands. Meanwhile, thousands of Gadhafi supporters in the capital celebrated state television news reports claiming the regime had taken back Misurata, strategically located between the capital Tripoli and Gadhafi's north-central hometown and stronghold of Sirte.

Rebels advancing toward Sirte traded rocket and machine-gun fire with the army, eventually retreating after suffering heavy losses. Rebels also faced brutal defeat in the coastal hamlet of Bin Jawad, east of Sirte. After having taken the town Saturday, they were ambushed by pro-regime snipers, who mingled with civilians and occupied homes in order to attack the rebels from rooftops.

A French cameraman, shot in the leg while traveling in a car with a group of rebels, said his shattered camera had saved his life.

A day before, in the rebel-controlled western town of Zawiyah, a local doctor reported a "massacre" Saturday, as a Sky News journalist said Gadhafi's forces fired on civilians.

Smoke rises from heavy shelling in Misurata

Gadhafi's forces shelled Libya's third-largest city Sunday

An embarrassing incident

On Sunday, a British diplomat and a group of elite soldiers were on the way back home after briefly being held prisoner by rebel forces.

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said the "diplomatic" team was on the way back to Britain after being arrested in Benghazi.

A rebel source in Benghazi said Libyan opposition forces "could not ascertain if they were friends or foes."

"The team went to Libya to initiate contacts with the opposition. They experienced difficulties, which have now been satisfactorily resolved," Hague said.

The international community has continued to express its outrage at the brutal violence in Libya.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has called on the UN Security Council to enact harsher sanctions against Gadhafi's regime.

"Selective sanctions are necessary against those who are responsible for crimes against the Libyan people," he told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper. "The flow of money must be cut off."

Author: David Levitz (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

Editor: Martin Kuebler

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