Monday, April 18, 2011

Despite the sense of relief after Monday's deal for a humanitarian corridor into the besieged city of Misrata, some rebels remain skeptical of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi's motives for the gesture.

The city's name has become a rallying cry for the rebellion, and a shorthand among international diplomats for the compelling reasons to escalate efforts in Libya. In that context, Col. Gadhafi made a politically astute decision by cutting a deal with the United Nations to allow overland shipments of food and medicine into Misrata. Such supplies are desperately needed in the embattled city, and the deliveries will soften the impression that the regime wants to wipe Misrata from the map.

Libya's third-largest city stands as the biggest exception to the east-west split emerging in the country, and it's now perhaps the most hotly contested patch of ground. Rebels hold the neighbourhoods around the port, sneaking boatloads of food and weapons into the city at night. Government troops occupy the main avenue. Nobody knows precisely how many have been killed, after almost two months, but it's easily into the hundreds.

The deal could prove tactically useful for the regime, as well, if it allows the government to eventually claim that only armed rebels remain in some areas. A spokesman in Tripoli was quoted saying the deal will allow “safe passage for people to leave Misrata,” presumably clearing the way for more intense offensives against the fighters who stay behind.

Col. Gadhafi's forces have already faced criticism for using cluster bombs in Misrata, and some rebels fear the humanitarian corridor could become a prelude to further attacks with heavy weapons. One rebel sympathizer commented on Twitter: “The UN is doing Gadhafi's work for him. What the ---- is wrong with you?”


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