Soldiers loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi are using cluster bombs on rebel groups and civilians in the city of Misrata, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Upon exploding on contact with an object, each submunition disintegrates into high-velocity fragments to attack people and releases a slug of molten metal to penetrate armoured vehicles, HRW noted, describing the cluster bomb.

Such weapons are banned by more than 100 nations. (Libyan did not sign the convention, along with the US, Israel, Russia and China.)

HRW claims is has photographic evidence that these bombs were exploded in a residential section of Misrata, the only city in the western part of the country that remains under rebel control.

[These bombs] pose a huge risk to civilians, both during attacks because of their indiscriminate nature and afterward because of the still-dangerous unexploded duds scattered about, said Steve Goose, HRW's arms division director

Misrata has been subject to a brutal siege by Gaddafi;’s troops.

The Libyan government has denied the allegation.

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told reporters in Tripoli: I challenge them to prove it. To use these bombs, the evidence would remain for days and weeks, and we know the international community is coming en masse to our country soon. So we can't do this, we can't do anything that would incriminate us even if we were criminals.

The situation in Misrata highlights concerns by Libyan rebel groups that more NATO air strikes will be necessary to protect civilians from Gaddafi’s violent incursions.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has warned that NATO should act quickly to prevent a massacre in Misrata.

Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, has also condemned Gaddafi’s brutal offensive on civilians.

That is worrying information,” she said. “And it is one of the reasons the fight in Misrata is so difficult, because it's at close quarters, it's in amongst urban areas and it poses a lot of challenges to both NATO and to the opposition.

BBC reports that hospitals in the city are overwhelmed with casualties.

“The hospital is struggling to keep pace with the attacks,” a reporter said.

“The emergency ward is a tent in the car park. Patients are rushed in and out to make way for new arrivals. Lights go on and off without warning, plunging surgeons into darkness. Doctors say they are running short of supplies, beds and staff to treat the continuing flow of wounded.”
HRW said it was unclear if any of the cluster bombs hurt any civilians, although it noted they appear to have landed about 300 meters from Misrata hospital.