Tripoli/London: In order to train the rebels fighting to dislodge Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, France and Italy are joining Britain in sending military officers to Libya, as the opposition on Wednesday asked NATO to dispatch ground troops to break the siege in Misurata.

French President promised to step up air strikes on Gaddafi's forces. "We are indeed going to intensify the attacks and respond to this request from the(Libyan) national transition council. We will help you," Nicholas Sarkozy told Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the leader of the opposition Libyan National Council in Paris, the al-Jazeera reported.

The European military officers will help advise rebels on technical, logistical and organisational issues. In Washington, officials said that the US will give USD 25
million to rebels in non-lethal assistance.

Meanwhile, fearing a massacre in the western Libyan city of Misurata, cut off from land by the forces of Gaddafi, rebel leaders asked NATO to dispatch ground troops to break the siege.

A French foreign ministry spokesperson said a small number of liaison officers would be sent out to Benghazi along with a special envoy, while Italy said it was ready to send around 10 officers - "the same number of military staff as
Britain".

Ignazio La Russa, Italy's defence minister, said in Rome that stronger intervention under the UN resolution, which does not permit ground troops, may be needed in Libya, the al-Jazeera reported.

Jalil said he invited Sarkozy to visit Benghazi, the rebel stronghold in Libya's east. "I think that would be very important for the revolution's morale," Jalil said after the meeting.

A senior member of Misurata's governing council Nuri Abdullah Abdullahti sent an SOS as rebels and government forces fought street battles for control of main thoroughfare of the city which has survived more than six weeks of attacks
by Gaddafi's forces.

The rebel plea came as al-Jazeera reported that hundreds of thousands of people were trapped in Libya's third largest town with food, fuel and medicines fast  running out.

Giving details of the plight of those trapped in Misurata and the situation in the city, Abdullahti said, "We did not accept any foreign soldiers in our country, but now, as we face these crimes of Gaddafi, we are asking on the basis of humanitarian and Islamic principles for someone to come and stop the killing."

"Before we were asking for no foreign interference, but that was before Gaddafi used Grad rockets and planes. Now it's a life or death situation."

Meanwhile, the rebels said Gaddafi's forces were also shelling other mountain towns in western Libya, sending thousands of people fleeing to nearby Tunisia.
Al Jazeera quoting Tunisian officials said that four mortar shells had landed on their territory. While, the rebels control the east and Gaddafi's forces the west, there are pockets of resistance in the mountains in western Libya particularly Nafusa mountains that are home to Libyans Berber minority.

As rebel positions on the ground appeared bleak, France joined Britain in sending military officers to Benghazi to help rebel forces reorganise and bolster the NATO air campaign that has failed to dent Gaddafi's firepower.

Meanwhile, the UN has said the reported use of cluster munitions by Col Gaddafi's forces in the city of Misrata "could amount to international crimes".

Agencies