Troops loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi have been accused by rights groups, rebels and reporters of using internationally banned cluster bombs against residents of Misrata.
Gadhafi forces continue to bombard rebel-held cities
The US-based Human Rights Watch said it had confirmed the use of the illegal weapons by studying bomblets dropped over the rebel-held city of Misrata and by speaking to ambulance drivers who said they had seen them used in attacks.
"It's appalling that Libya is using this weapon, especially in residential areas," said Steve Goose, arms division director of Human Rights Watch. "They pose a huge risk to civilians, both during attacks because of their indiscriminate nature and afterward because of the unexploded duds scattered about."
The Libyan government has denied the accusations.
The use of the munitions was first reported by The New York Times, which published photographs of so-called MAT-120 mortar rounds, which explode in the air and scatter deadly, armor-piercing bomblets across a wide area.
Human Rights Watch said the munitions were produced in Spain in 2007.
Cluster bombs have been forbidden under international law since August 2010 because of the indiscriminate deaths they can cause in civilian populations.
West vows to continue air campaign
Libyan rebels are banking on NATO to take down Gadhafi
Misrata remained under bombardment by pro-Gadhafi forces on Saturday. Loud explosions and heavy gunfire could be heard in the center of Libya's third-largest city. Some of the big explosions before dawn were believed to be airstrikes by NATO aircraft against pro-regime positions. Rebels said, however, that government forces had reached the city center.
On the diplomatic front, the leaders of Britain, France and the United States said a future for Libya which included Gadhafi was "unthinkable," tacitly acknowledging that the aim of the air war was regime change.
In a joint newspaper article published on Friday, US President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to continue the military campaign until Gadhafi steps down.
They have ruled out sending in ground troops, but it remains to be seen whether air power alone can dislodge a leader, who has had absolute control over his country for more than 40 years.
Author: Gregg Benzow (Reuters, AFP, dpa)
Editor: Toma Tasovac