Alarmed by the deepening humanitarian crisis in Misurata, United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon has called for an immediate ceasefire in Libya, where forces loyal to Libyan strongman Muammar Qadhafi are battling an armed opposition that is seeking regime change.

Speaking in Budapest on Monday, Mr. Ban called for an “immediate, effective ceasefire”. He stressed that it was “absolutely necessary that Libyan authorities stop fighting and killing people.”

Pro-Qadhafi forces have besieged and heavily shelled Misurata, Libya's third largest city for the past seven weeks. Regime loyalists have managed to advance to the city centre but the Libyan opposition holds significant portions, including its lifeline, the port area. The New-York based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the government of firing in Misurata's residential areas, deadly cluster bombs, which most countries no longer use during combat because of their indiscriminate impact.  The Libyan regime has strongly denied the accusation, and challenged HRW to substantiate its allegations with incontrovertible proof.

On Sunday, an opposition spokesman in Misurata said shelling by government forces had killed 17 people and wounded around 100.

Reuters, quoting the International Organisation for Migration, is reporting that around 1,000 people had been evacuated from the city on Monday, but thousands more were still awaiting rescue.

Under heavy international pressure, the Libyan government has agreed to establish a humanitarian corridor to Misurata, government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said late on Sunday. Mr. Ban said the U.N. had reached an agreement with authorities to establish a “humanitarian presence” in Tripoli. Al Jazeera said the opposition in Misurata was receiving a steady stream of supplies along sea routes which extended to Benghazi, Tunis, and Malta.

Responding to accusations that it was using excessive force, the Libyan leadership said it was combating “terrorists” who had infiltrated Misurata. In an interview with The Washington Post, Saif-al-Islam Qadhafi, the Libyan leader's son said: “You know what happened in Misurata? It's exactly what happened in the Cold River, in Tripoli, Lebanon. The Lebanese army went and attacked three or four civilian districts in Tripoli to fight Jund al-Sham, the soldiers of Islam, you know that terrorist group in Lebanon… It's exactly the same. You are not fighting or killing innocent people or civilians, because it is not in the interests of anybody to kill civilians, but the terrorists are there, the terrorists are there.”

Separately, Mr. Ibrahim stressed that Al-Qaeda was part of the Libyan uprising against the regime. He alleged that Abdelhakim al-Hasadi, a Jihadist, who is “very well-known to intelligence services around the world,” was travelling with 25 fighters in an old Egyptian ship, the Al-Shahid Abdelwahab, from Benghazi to Misurata, to join opposition forces. He added that another Islamist, Ismail Sallabi, a member of the Fighting Islamic Group in Libya (GICL) and Al-Qaeda, was training 200 “fundamentalists” in the “April 7” military camp in Benghazi.

Backed by a fresh wave of NATO air strikes, opposition forces in the east have advanced 40 km west of the strategic town on Ajdabiyah, located on a junction from where roads lead to Benghazi, the opposition headquarters, and Tobruk, a short distance away from the border with Egypt. The anti-Qadhafi forces had retreated towards Ajdabiyah on Sunday, in the face of heavy artillery firing by regime loyalists and the absence of NATO airstrikes on account of a sandstorm.

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