Libya in Nato ground troops warning
Rebels have been battling Muammar Gaddafi's troops for control of central Misrata, driving dozens of snipers from tall buildings in hours of urban warfare and gaining a tactical advantage in the only major city held by the opposition in western Libya, witnesses said.
The Libyan government, meanwhile, ramped up its rhetoric against Nato, warning that "it will be hell" for the alliance if it sends in ground troops, even though Prime Minister David Cameron said the Western nations were not moving toward such a deployment.
US defence secretary Robert Gates said president Barack Obama has approved the use of armed Predator drones in Libya. The drones allow for low-level precision attacks and are uniquely suited for urban areas such as Misrata, where Nato airpower has been unable to protect civilians when Gaddafi's forces are operating inside the city.
At least seven people were killed in Thursday's fighting for the main Misrata thoroughfare of Tripoli Street, bringing to 20 the number killed in three days. Misrata has been besieged by government forces for nearly two months, with human rights groups estimating hundreds of people killed.
"Colonel Gaddafi's troops continue their vicious attacks, including the siege of Misrata," US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said in Washington. "There are even reports that Gaddafi forces may have used cluster bombs against their own people."
Libyan officials have persistently denied the use of cluster bombs, which indiscriminately spray small bomblets over a wide area and are particularly lethal in residential areas. However, Human Rights Watch has said it found evidence of cluster bombs being used by government forces in Misrata.
Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim warned that Nato would find itself entangled in fighting ordinary Libyans if its soldiers were to set foot on Libyan soil. He said the Gaddafi regime is ready to observe an immediate ceasefire and negotiate the terms of political transition. Rebels have said Gaddafi must step down before such talks can begin.
Italy, France and Britain are sending experienced combat advisers to help train and organise Libya's opposition forces to dislodge Gaddafi after four decades in power. Ministers have insisted the officers will not play any role in offensives against Gaddafi's troops and have repeatedly said Nato and allies will not overstep boundaries set out in the United Nations resolution authorising action in Libya.
"We're not allowed, rightly, to have an invading army, or an occupying army," Mr Cameron said. "That's not what we want, that's not what the Libyans want, that's not what the world wants."
The pledge came as US senator John McCain arrived in the opposition capital of Benghazi, where he said Libyan rebels fighting Gaddafi's troops are his heroes. Mr McCain said he plans to meet with the rebel National Transition Council, the de-facto government in the eastern half of the country, and members of the rebel military.