On 18 April anti-Qaddafi rebels in Misrata — Libya's third-largest city, and the main city held by rebels in the west of the country — were reported as saying that without outside aid the city would soon fall to its month-long siege by Qaddafi's army.
They said that there had been no NATO air strikes on the siege troops for three days.
The European Union has a plan to send up to one thousand ground troops to Misrata “to secure the delivery of aid supplies”, and to fight only in self-defence. EU officials say they are waiting for UN endorsement of the plan. On 19 April the British government said that ten British officers and a similar number of French would go to Libya to advise the rebels.
The EU, like NATO, talks of helping the rebels only because they want to “live down” their past links with Qaddafi and lay the basis for good relations with the post-Qaddafi regime in oil-rich Libya.
Socialists must oppose any trust in or endorsement of the EU and NATO. But positively to try to stop EU and NATO aid for the rebels — as some on the left are doing — is to get our priorities entirely wrong.
In the same way that Guernica, and Srebrenica in more recent years, hold a place in the awful annals of tyrant history, so will rebel Misrata, now and for the decades to come.
Whilst the majority of the UK left wavers or does what it can to stop NATO action against Qaddafi, 300 000 people are being left to their fate in a murderous onslaught by Qaddafi loyalist forces. Some humanitarian access has been granted in theory by the regime but so far only the Red Cross has been allowed in — and their report is absolutely damning in terms of the attacks on the civilian population of the city.
Cluster bombs are being rained down on the streets and houses of Misrata and loyalist militias, sometimes uniformed, sometimes not have been trying to take the city street by street. They are using mosques, schools and hospitals as forward posts. Civilians, including women and children, are being used as human shields.
NATO commander Charles Bouchard has argued that it is like watching a knife fight in a telephone booth. And that is what NATO is doing — watching.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has organised the transport of migrant workers and wounded to Benghazi — but this is less for humanitarian purposes than to deflect a potential refugee problem away from European borders.
Qaddafi's deputy foreign minister Khaled Kayim is arguing for the ruthless destruction of the city. Amongst the loyalist cheerleaders for the regime — a regime which still holds a great measure of support in the western areas of Tripolitania — there is a popular song which is being transmitted everywhere. The “Zenga Zenga” song paraphrases the words of Saif al-Islam and declares that “House to house, room to room, alley to alley, person to person we will disinfect the whole country from filth”. The same will be their intention for Adjadbia and Benghazi if the regime has any measure of success.
Fundamentally, NATO does not know what to do. Air strikes outside of rebel-held cities are one thing but intervention into a divided city at war is militarily tricky.
Meanwhile the flickers of Islamism in the rebel movement are fading. Even if they become more vocal in a post-war democratic settlement, they will be moving away from a jihadist military posture. Or at least that is the feeling of both international and domestic observers.
Fearful of the impact that intervention might have on moving people towards Islamist critiques of the US, NATO is wavering towards inaction. But leaving the rebellion to the hands of the tyranny will also affect NATO's reputation among the millions of people fighting for democracy in the region from Homs in Syria to the Arabian peninsula.
Our concerns are different from NATO's, but there are massive implications for workers solidarity and the bringing together of workers in, say, Newcastle and Yemen around a struggle for democracy and liberty and against the vulgarities of a pro-tyrant left.
To throw our efforts into pushing NATO towards inaction, rather than into supporting the Libyan resistance, would amount to backing a massacre of our people, our children on the streets of Misrata.