The U.N. children’s agency said Monday that at least 20 children have been killed and many more have been wounded in the embattled Libyan city of Misrata over the past three weeks.
UNICEF said children as young as 9 months were among the victims and the majority were under 10 years of age.
It says they died of shrapnel from mortars and tanks, and bullet wounds.
UNICEF warned Monday that tens of thousands more children are at risk because of lack of food and safe water in the western coastal city.
The agency said last week that children in Misrata were being targeted by snipers. Rebels have been able to hold onto Libya’s third-largest city despite a sustained onslaught by regime forces.
Human Rights Watch said Monday indiscriminate attacks on civilians trapped in Misrata by forces loyal to Gadhafi violate international law.
Hospitals in Libya’s third city had documented about 250 deaths over the past month, most of them civilians, as government troops fight for control of the last big rebel stronghold in the west of Libya, the group said.
“We’ve heard disturbing accounts of shelling and shooting at a clinic and in populated areas, killing civilians where no battle was raging,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at HRW, said.
Under international law, warring factions are not allowed to target civilians or carry out assaults that do not discriminate between civilians and combatants, the organization said.
The watchdog said it spoke to two doctors and 17 evacuees including 35-year-old Jamal Mohammad Suaib, who lost three family members in an attack by government soldiers.
“My wife was holding my son,” he was quoted as saying. “The bullet hit her in the arm and ricocheted into my son’s face. None of us had a weapon. We were just families looking for a safe place to stay.”
Journalists have not been allowed to report freely from Misrata, making it difficult to verify the accounts.
Misrata is not the only place from where allegations that Gadhafi loyalists have waged a campaign of terror against civilians have emerged.
People fleeing the sparsely populated Western Mountains region say government troops are shelling homes, poisoning water wells and threatening to rape women.
Misrata rose up in revolt against Gadhafi’s four-decade rule in mid-February along with other towns across the country. Gadhafi’s forces have encircled the city and sought to loosen the rebels’ grip with persistent shelling and sniper fire.
The humanitarian situation in the city of 300,000 people is an increasing worry, HRW said. Agencies