The U.N. humanitarian chief said Monday that the Libyan government has promised her access to the besieged rebel city of Misrata, but with no guarantees that the assault by Moammar Gadhafi's forces would cease.
A Libyan official said the government is willing to set up "safe passage" into Misrata, the only city still partly held by rebels in Gadhafi-controlled western Libya. But at the same time, a witness in Misrata reported Monday that government forces continued to pound the city with rockets and artillery.
At least 267 people have been killed in Misrata, Libya's third-largest city, during more than seven weeks of siege, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said Monday. It said the final toll is likely higher. After inspecting impact sites and talking to witnesses, the group accused Libyan forces of launching indiscriminate rocket and mortar attacks on residential neighborhoods.
Rebels and civilians evacuated from Misrata by boat as part of an international rescue mission were taken off on gurneys or in wheelchairs Monday. One had a severely damaged leg with braces and bandages and some women carried babies. One of the rebels carried fragments of rockets as he disembarked in the rebels' de facto capital Benghazi late Monday.
"I brought this to show people what's going on there (in Misrata). Somebody has to do something about it," said the rebel, Ali Milad, 38.
The rebels have controlled much of eastern Libya, including the second-largest Libyan city of Benghazi, since early on in the uprising against Gadhafi that began in mid-February. Gadhafi loyalists have crushed other rebellions in western Libya, but have not been able to take back control of Misrata through many weeks of attacks.
The Libyan government has denied firing heavy weapons, including rockets and tank shells, at the city.
"If there is killing of civilians, we are saying that the rebels are the ones killing civilians," government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said Monday.
Valerie Amos, the U.N. humanitarian chief, said she demanded in a meeting with Libyan officials in Tripoli on Sunday that the U.N. be permitted to visit Misrata and other towns to assess the humanitarian needs there.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned Monday that the needs of tens of thousands of Libyan civilians are not being met as a result of the fighting.
Early Monday, nearly 1,000 people -- among several thousand stranded in the area of Misrata's port -- boarded an aid ship sent by the International Organization for Migration.
Most of the passengers were migrant workers, but also included 100 Libyans, among them 23 wounded in the fighting.