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NPR News

Rebels Retreat Again; Leader Blames NATO

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

NPR's Eric Westervelt is following the story from the rebel capital, Benghazi.

ERIC WESTERVELT: The general said he'd been deeply disappointed with NATO since it assumed command of military operations in Libya from the U.S. over the weekend. Younes claimed the alliance wasn't doing enough to stop Colonel Gadhafi's forces from attacking civilians in Misrata and elsewhere.

ABDEL FATTAH YOUNES: (Through translator) If NATO wanted to remove the siege on Misrata, they would have done so days ago. And they're using the excuse of collateral damage, that they don't want to kill civilians. But civilians are dying from Gadhafi's attacks. His crimes there will be hanging around the neck of the international community till the end of days.

WESTERVELT: Outside Ajdabiya, 29-year-old fighter Bassem Esneyne said he was with two other trucks delivering ammunition to the front lines when mortar and artillery rounds began to rain down from all around.

BASSEM ESNEYNE: (Through translator) Three people with me were killed, were martyred. Gadhafi forces attacked us from the main road and from the desert on our right side.

WESTERVELT: Speaking at NATO headquarters in Brussels Tuesday, Dutch Brigadier General Mark Van Uhm, NATO's chief of operations, said the alliance had carried out 14 airstrikes against pro-Gadhafi forces in the last 24 hours, including on tanks near Misrata. General Van Uhm accused the Gadhafi regime of hiding artillery and other heavy weapons in heavily populated civilian areas in and around that city.

MARK VAN UHM: Misrata is a number-one priority because of the situation on the ground over there. And we have absolute confirmation that in Misrata, tanks are being dispersed, being hidden, humans being used as shields in order to prevent NATO sorties to identify, target those assets.

WESTERVELT: There was some good news for the beleaguered Libyan revolutionaries. On Tuesday, a U.S. diplomat met with members of the provisional government here. Chris Stevens was the first official American envoy to meet with the rebels in Benghazi. Stevens didn't talk to the media, but senior opposition leader Mustafa Jalil, who met with Stevens, told NPR afterwards he hopes the meeting paves the way for U.S. recognition of the provisional government.

MUSTAFA JALIL: (Foreign language spoken)

WESTERVELT: Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Benghazi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.