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Tunisia calls on Libya to stop cross-border shelling as more victims fall in Misrata

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Tunisia threatened to report Libya to the UN Security Council if it fired into Tunisian border areas again as pressure was piling on Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi and more deaths were reported in Misrata.

Libyan state television said its forces had hit a NATO warship that was shelling targets in western Misrata, but a NATO official denied the report as “a totally fabricated allegation,” according to Reuters.

Tunisia’s state-run TAP news agency said the government would threaten Libya with diplomatic action over the “continuing firing of rockets by Libyan forces towards Tunisian territory,” violating its territorial sovereignty and putting its citizens at risk.

“The Tunisian government views those acts as belligerent behavior from the Libyan side who had pledged more than once to prevent its forces from firing in the direction of Tunisia and has failed to respect its undertakings,” TAP quoted a foreign ministry source as saying.

Earlier on Tuesday at least four Russian-made Grad rockets fired from Libya landed inside Tunisia, according to a Reuters reporter at the scene.

Rocket attacks by government troops forced Libyan protesters to pull back briefly from the Dehiba-Wazin border crossing, but they ended the day in control of it despite a sustained bombardment that killed three protesters and wounded several.

The border crossing is a lifeline for opposition fighters on the western front of Libya’s two-month-old conflict, allowing food, medicine and fuel to reach revolt-held towns on the mountain plateau, and ambulances to take casualties to hospital in Tunisia.

In Misrata, the only revolt-held city in western Libya, a hospital doctor said seven people were killed in fighting between protesters and besieging government forces. Most of the dead were protesters killed on the eastern and western edges of the half-million-people city

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he held talks with Colonel Qaddafi envoys and had told Tripoli to obey the terms of UN resolutions on Libya, Agence-France Presse reported.

The visit to Moscow by Muhammed Ahmed al-Sharif, general secretary of the World Islamic Call Society, the Libya-based group founded by the 68-year-olf colonel, comes as Russia is preparing to meet with protesters fighting the regime.

“We raised the issues that directly come out of our principal position aimed first and foremost at urgently ending bloodletting in Libya,” Mr. Lavrov said after talks with Sharif.

“We raised an issue about the need for the Libyan leadership to explicitly embrace and begin the implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions in full” that call for a cessation of violence against civilians, he continued.

Mr. Lavrov said the envoy told Moscow that Tripoli was ready to cooperate if protesters and NATO ceased hostilities. “The answer that we heard could not be called negative,” he said.

Moscow, which has been strongly critical of the international campaign against Colonel Qaddafi's regime, had agreed to talk to both Tripoli envoys and protesters who had also planned to come to Moscow but had to delay their trip.

The opposition, meanwhile, ruled out any three-way talks involving the regime.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Gerard Longuet of France said in comments made public on Tuesday that the NATO-led bombardments had “wiped out” Mr. Qaddafi's warplanes and heavily depleted his army.

Parts of Tripoli have been targeted almost daily by NATO-led strikes that began on March 19 after a UN resolution mandated a no-fly zone and called for the protection of civilians from Mr. Qaddafi’s regime.

Colonel Qaddafi, his son Said al-Islam and the spy chief Abdullah Senussi have been accused by International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of committing crimes against humanity in suppressing anti-regime protests that erupted on February 15.

Mr. Moreno-Ocampo is asking the court to issue warrants against the three, saying there was evidence “that Colonel Qaddafi personally ordered attacks on innocent Libyan civilians.”

A panel of judges will now decide whether to accept the application.

Mr. Moreno-Ocampo said thousands of people had been killed and around 750,000 people forced to flee since Mr. Qaddafi ordered his forces to crush the protests against his four-decade autocratic rule.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said about 14,000 people have fled to Italy or Malta by boat from Libya since the outbreak of the conflict and thousands more are planning to do the same. Libya has an estimated population of six million people.

In Canada, the government announced it has decided to expel five Libyan diplomats for actions it called “inappropriate,” according to AFP.

“The activities carried out in Canada by the five Libyan diplomats are considered inappropriate and inconsistent with normal diplomatic functions,” a foreign ministry statement said.

(Abeer Tayel, an editor at Al Arabiya, can be reached at: abeer.tayel@mbc.net)