Gaddafi forces attack Misrata, heavy shelling: rebel

By Lamine Chikhi and Mariam Karouny

ALGIERS/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi launched attacks on rebel-held Misrata from the west and the east on Saturday, shelling the city’s port with mortars and artillery, a rebel told Reuters.

Misrata is the only big rebel stronghold left in the west of Libya and it is cut off from the main rebel force fighting Gaddafi’s troops in the east of the country. It has been encircled and under bombardment for weeks.

“Gaddafi forces are attacking Misrata from the west and east side. (There is) heavy shelling,” the rebel, called Saadoun, told Reuters by phone. From the west, he said tanks were advancing from the coastal road toward the city.

“They are also trying to bring in soldiers,” he said.

“From the east, they are shelling with mortars and artillery the port and areas around it. There is the main fuel tank in the port which feeds the central part of the city.”

He said there were thousands of workers, mainly Egyptians, at the port who had fled and stayed there hoping for rescue.

A rebel spokesman earlier said pro-Gaddafi forces had eased their bombardment of Misrata after Western air strikes hit some of their positions.

But a resident said pro-Gaddafi snipers were still shooting at people from rooftops in the center of the town and that the death toll during the past week had reached 115 people, including several children.

Western aircraft and missiles have been increasing their raids on government positions there — a step the coalition says is part of its mandate, going beyond enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya and also protecting civilians from attack.

“The allied planes are in the sky above Misrata and they have bombed locations of the (pro-Gaddafi) forces in the outskirts,” the rebel spokesman, Abdelbasset Abu Mzereiq, earlier told Reuters by telephone from Misrata.

“The shelling of Misrata has eased. There was heavy shelling earlier. We know the allied planes have made several raids and bombed several locations in the outskirts. We know they bombed an ammunition site inside the air base (south of the city).”

SNIPERS ON ROOFTOPS

Reports from Misrata, Libya’s third-biggest city about 200 km (130 miles) east of Tripoli, could not be verified.

Libyan officials say the rebels are armed gangs linked to al Qaeda who are holding the people of the city hostage.

A Misrata resident, also speaking to Reuters by telephone, said pro-Gaddafi forces were still attacking civilians.

“Gaddafi’s men are still controlling the eastern and western gates of the city of Misrata. Snipers continue to target civilians,” said the resident, who did not give his name.

“They are located on the rooftops of buildings downtown in the city … We’ve had 115 killed during the past week,” he said. He said that toll included six people killed on Friday, three of whom were children.

Accounts from people in Misrata portray a city where buildings have shell holes in walls and where the sound of artillery fire and automatic weapons rings out every few minutes.

Doctors at the clinic being used as a makeshift hospital say they are so overwhelmed by the numbers of injured they have to operate in the corridors and people who have had limbs amputated are sent home to make room for new patients.

One video clip posted on the Internet and identified as coming from Misrata showed a children’s hospital with a large hole blown in the wall and, inside, baby incubators covered in concrete dust and debris.

Misrata residents also say they are facing a humanitarian crisis with dwindling food, and water supplies and electricity now cut off. Libyan officials deny deliberately cutting power and water to the city.

Aid agencies were able to bring in supplies via Misrata’s Mediterranean port earlier this week but it is uncertain if they can deliver more because control over the port has see-sawed between the rebels and pro-Gaddafi forces.

(Writing by Christian Lowe and Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by David Cowell)

Gaddafi forces attack Misrata, heavy shelling: rebel