Tripoli: Pro-Gaddafi forces intensified the shelling on the opposition-held western Zintan town, southwest of the capital Tripoli, as world leaders on Thursday decided to create a special fund to help the rebels overthrow the embattled Libyan regime.

Abdulrahamn, a rebel spokesman in Zintan, said about 50 Russian-made Grad rockets were fired into Zintan town, southwest of the capital Tripoli.

Shelling by government troops also targeted Qasr Ahmad district in Misurata, which is the only major city in western Libya still held by rebels trying to overthrow Gaddafi, reports said.

Five people were killed in the shelling on Misurata's port as 'Red Star One', a ship chartered by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), evacuated people from the embattled city to the main rebel city of Benghazi, according to reports.

Reports said the aid ship was forced to leave behind hundreds of Libyans desperate to flee the fighting in the face of attacks on the port of Misurata, which has been under siege of the Libyan regime for over seven weeks.

Even as NATO forces have bombed assets of the Libyan regime for several weeks, the ill-trained ragtag rebels have failed to hold their ground in the face of massive pounding by
the government forces.

TNC appeals for loan

Amid warnings of a "stalemate" in the Libyan conflict, the opposition's Transitional National Council (TNC) has appealed for loans of up to USD 3 billion as a fresh financial lifeline for their campaign to overthrow Gaddafi.

The 22-member Libya Contact Group, composed of NATO members, Arab states and international organisations said it would create a fund for rebels running short of supplies and money.

Italy, host of the meeting in Rome on Thursday, said the temporary special fund would aim to channel cash to the opposition's administration in its eastern Libyan stronghold of Benghazi.

"We'll be discussing a financial mechanism, we'll be discussing other forms of aid," US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said at a joint news conference with her Italian counterpart Franco Frattini in Rome.

Clinton said the US administration would try and free up some of the USD 30 billion it has frozen in Libyan assets to help the rebels.

US wants "to tap some portion of those assets owned by Gaddafi and the Libyan government in the United States, so we can make those funds available to help the Libyan people," she said.

The report said Kuwait has pledged USD 180 million and Qatar will put in USD 400-USD 500 million. It had been suggested that financial aid would be in the form of a loan from the coalition countries.

"One assumes that in the fullness of time this would be repaid by oil sales, which Qatar already started with one shipment of oil. And it may be able to be repaid relatively
quickly," said reports.

Countries that recognise the rebel's TNC -- France, Italy and Qatar -- are the ones with which the TNC will do business.

Clinton said the meeting would also look at ways to step up pressure on Gaddafi to quit, adding the desired outcome was an end to violence against civilians and a "democratic transition", news channel reported.

Humanitarian disaster in Misurata

International human right groups have warned of a humanitarian disaster in Misurata, amid fears that over 1000 people have been killed in the conflict over the last two months.

The office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the crisis in Libya has forced thousands to flee the country. It said more than 665,000 people have now fled strife-torn Libya.

In a related development, the prosecutors of the International Criminal Court (ICC) have found evidence that the Gaddafi's forces committed crimes against humanity in the conflict.

"The available information provides reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed and continue being committed in Libya, including murder...," Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the court's chief prosecutor, said earlier this week.

The prosecutor, who was mandated by the UN Security Council to probe alleged abuses in Libya, underlined that there were credible estimates of between 500 and 700 people killed in February alone.

The international coalition led by the US began air strikes in Libya on March 19 following the UNSC mandate to protect civilians. NATO took command of military campaign on March 31.

Russia and China who had abstained from voting on the US Security Council resolution 1973 that mandated the 'no fly' zone over Libya in order to protect civilians, have been highly critical of the NATO bombardments.

Describing the air strikes as being outside the mandate of UNSC resolution, Russia has accused NATO of a "disproportionate use of force".

China has called for a ceasefire in Libya and underlined the need for NATO to abide by UNSC mandate to protect civilians.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US military's joint chiefs of staff, last month had admitted that the conflict was "moving towards stalemate" even as NATO air strikes had weakened the Libyan forces.

 

(Agencies)