AJDABIYA, Libya – Government forces killed six civilians in the city of Misrata on Saturday in an unrelenting campaign of shelling and sniper fire aimed at driving rebels from the main city they hold in western Libya, medical officials said.
Doctors said that 243 people have been killed and some 1,000 wounded in more than a month and a half of fighting between Moammar Gadhafi's forces and rebels in Misrata. Most of those slain Saturday were hit by snipers, they said.
One said government forces appeared to be trying to wound civilians.
"The weapons that the Gadhafi brigades use are not meant to prevent movement in the city, but to cause also deformation or paralysis so the suffering of the people endures all their lives," the doctor told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
NATO said Saturday that it was investigating Libyan rebel reports that a coalition warplane had struck a rebel position that was firing into the air near the eastern front line of the battle with Gadhafi's forces.
Rebels told The Associated Press that a group of opposition fighters was hit by an airstrike about 12 miles (20 kilometers) east of the town of Brega Friday night.
Mohammad Bedrise, a doctor in a nearby hospital, said three burned bodies had been brought in by men who said they had been hit after firing a heavy machine gun in the air in celebration. Idris Kadiki, a 38-year-old mechanical engineer, said he had seen an ambulance and three cars burning after an airstrike.
NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said the coaliton was looking into the reports.
The loosely organized rebel force had been acting in a more disciplined fashion in recent days. On Friday only former military officers and the lightly trained volunteers serving under them were allowed on the front lines. Some were recent arrivals, hoping to rally against forces loyal to the Libyan leader who have pushed rebels back about 100 miles (160 kilometers) this week.
The better organized fighters, unlike some of their predecessors, can tell the difference between incoming and outgoing fire. They know how to avoid sticking to the roads, a weakness in the untrained forces that Gadhafi's troops have exploited. And they know how to take orders.
The greater organization was a sign that military forces that split from the regime to join the rebellion were finally taking a greater role in the fight after weeks trying to organize. Fighters cheered Friday as one of their top commanders — former Interior Minister Abdel-Fattah Younis — drove by in a convoy toward the front.
It was too early to say if the improvements will tip the fight in the rebels' favor. They have been struggling to exploit the opportunity opened by international airstrikes hammering Gadhafi's forces since March 19.
In a sign the strikes may be eroding Gadhafi's resilience, his government is trying to hold talks with the U.S., Britain and France in hopes of ending the air campaign, said Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi, a former Libyan prime minister who has served as a Gadhafi envoy during the crisis. "We are trying to find a mutual solution," he told Britain's Channel 4 News on Friday.
British officials met with Mohammed Ismail, a Libyan government aide who happened to be in London visiting relatives, and told him Gadhafi must quit, two people familiar with the issue said Friday. The two demanded anonymity to discuss details.
The opposition said Friday in Benghazi, its de facto capital, that it will agree to a cease-fire if Gadhafi pulls his military forces out of cities and allows peaceful protests against his regime.
The rebel condition is that "the Gadhafi brigades and forces withdraw from inside and outside Libyan cities to give freedom to the Libyan people to choose," said Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the opposition's interim governing council. "The world will see that they will choose freedom."
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