Battles intensify in Libya

AJDABIYA, Libya (AP) — Moammar Gadhafi’s forces fired rockets along the eastern front line and shelled the besieged city of Misrata on Tuesday as France and Britain urged their NATO allies, including the United States, to intensify the campaign against the Libyan regime.

But hopes for a rebel military victory have faded and diplomatic efforts to find a solution were picking up momentum. On Wednesday, diplomats will meet in the tiny Gulf nation of Qatar for a meeting of the Libya contact group, which aims to coordinate an international response to the conflict.

On Monday, African leaders tried to broker a cease-fire but were immediately shot down when the opposition insisted that Gadhafi give up power immediately.

The Libyan rebels have proven to be far weaker and outnumbered by Gadhafi’s forces and without NATO airstrikes, they could face a crushing military defeat. So any realistic rebel hopes of unseating Gadhafi now rest firmly on international political pressure combined with sustained NATO airstrikes.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said NATO was not doing enough to ease the pressure on Misrata. He also said the alliance should be firing on the weapons being used by Gadhafi’s troops to target civilians in Misrata, the only city in western Libya that is still partially in the hands of rebels. International groups are warning of a dire humanitarian crisis in Libya’s third-largest city.

Paris lamented the limited U.S. military role in Libya and chided Germany for its lack of involvement. In a dire analysis, France’s defense minister acknowledged that without full American participation in the combat operation, the West probably can’t stop Gadhafi’s attacks on besieged rebel cities.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague agreed that the allies must “intensify” their efforts.

France has played a particularly aggressive role in Libya in recent weeks, pushing diplomatically for a U.N. resolution to allow the international military operation and firing the first strikes in the campaign. France also was the first to recognize the Libyan opposition and to send a diplomatic envoy to the rebel-held city of Benghazi.

A NATO general rejected the criticism and said the alliance is performing well and protecting civilians.

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