TRIPOLI, Libya – Moamar Qaddafi's forces unleashed a barrage of shells and rockets at Misrata on Sunday in an especially bloody weekend, countering Libyan government claims that the army was holding its fire into the western city.
Despite the barrage, which doctors say killed 32 and wounded dozens in two days, rebels said they drove the last pro-government forces from the center of Libya's third-largest city. Morale among Qaddafi's troops fighting in Misrata has collapsed, with some abandoning their posts, said one captured Libyan soldier.
The battle for Misrata, which has claimed hundreds of lives in the past two months, has become the focal point of Libya's armed rebellion against Qaddafi since fighting elsewhere is deadlocked.
Video of Misrata civilians being killed and wounded by Qaddafi's heavy weapons, including Grad rockets and tank shells, have spurred calls for more forceful international intervention to stop the bloodshed in the rebel-held city.
In Washington, three members of the Senate Armed Services Committee said more should be done to drive Qaddafi out of power, including targeting his inner circle with airstrikes. Qaddafi "needs to wake up every day wondering, `Will this be my last?"' Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican on the committee, told CNN's "State of the Union."
However, in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI offered an Easter prayer for diplomacy to prevail over warfare in Libya.
NATO's mandate from the U.N. is to try to protect civilians in Libya, split into a rebel-run east and a western area that remains largely under Qaddafi's control. While the coalition's airstrikes have delivered heavy blows to Qaddafi's army, they have not halted attacks on Misrata, a city of 300,000 people besieged by Qaddafi loyalists for two months.
Still, in recent days, the rebels' drive to push Qaddafi's men out of the city center gained momentum.
Late last week, they forced government snipers out of high-rise buildings. On Sunday, rebels took control of the main hospital, the last position of Libyan troops in the center of Misrata, said a city resident, who only gave his first name, Abdel Salam, for fear of reprisals. Throughout the day, government forces fired more than 70 rockets at the city, he said.
"Now Qaddafi's troops are on the outskirts of Misrata, using rocket launchers," Abdel Salam said.
A Misrata rebel, 37-year-old Lutfi, said there had been 300-400 Qaddafi fighters in the main hospital and in the surrounding area that were trying to melt into the local population.
"They are trying to run way," Lutfi said of the soldiers, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. "They are pretending to be civilians. They are putting on sportswear."
Ali Misbah, a captured Libyan soldier who had been wounded in the leg, was held under guard in a tent in the parking lot of the Al Hikmeh Hospital, one of the city's smaller medical centers.
Misbah, 25, said morale was low among Qaddafi's troops. "Recently, our spirit has collapsed and the forces that were in front of us escaped and left us alone," he said.